It is the story that just keeps on…giving.
Give them some credit, this is the way to release a bad story. Elizabeth Warren was faced with another bout of bad news, and it seems the press was working in conjunction with her to release it in a way to mitigate the harm. A timed release, a reframing of the heart of the story, and setting the table for a potential Presidential candidate to move on, are all in play here.
The story (from the paper that needed a Super Bowl commercial to boost its stature) centers on Warren seeking forgiveness from Native American leadership regarding her past claims to that heritage. This differs significantly from her past convictions on the matter. She met recently with the leadership of the Cherokee Nation over her decade of false assertions, and her now infamous DNA test.
Warren’s apology is laced with the veiled language of someone carefully admitting to the least amount of contrition, leaving opportunity for interpretation while never coming out and fully accepting responsibility. “I am sorry for furthering confusion on tribal sovereignty and tribal citizenship and harm that resulted.” It’s almost surprising she did not state “I used an inartful lineage”.
Finally The Post, after 255 words, gets around to revealing that it has obtained a document from Elizabeth Warren’s early legal career where she laid claim to this heritage. Dated April 19, 1986, it is a registration card from the State Bar of Texas, filled out by hand and signed by Warren herself. On this form, she filled out the field for RACE with: “American Indian”.
This detail from a newly unearthed state legal document would strike most as being a touch more interesting than an apology she made a week ago. Making a false statement on a state bar form could be seen as an ethics violation. It could also be seen as the key aspect of this story. WaPo was so blase’ about this it did not even rate inclusion in its headline: “Elizabeth Warren Apologizes For Calling Herself Native American”.
Warren’s standing on this issue has almost become bigger than the issue itself. Her explanation for the claim of Native American ancestry has been frequently challenged, and her responses have just as frequently “evolved”. Warren has been hesitant to declare whether she, or possibly staff members, had been the one to indicate her race in past documents. She has long stated her family insisted on their having firm roots in the Cherokee and Delaware tribes.
The main issue has been her use of the heritage in furthering her professional life. The question (largely unproven) has been whether Warren benefitted in ways by being regarded as a minority. At Harvard, the school touted Warren as a Native American, and she declared this was a result of her attributing herself in that way in official forms. She had not however done so during her time as a teacher at the University of Texas, and she has on occasion deflected not being aware if it had been herself who listed her race in past documents.
However the revelation of this form from 1986 tracks perfectly with subsequent stops in her career where, following this Texas Bar designation, she has been alluded to as being Native American. It was a designation of her making. And it also shows her amoebic explanations continuing to contort.
In a similarly protective piece in the Boston Globe Warren’s heritage was a focus, but there was every effort made to show she did not gain professionally from the claim of her heritage. Despite the college touting her as a minority (benefitting the school in numerous multi-cultural ways), it was declared her American Indian classification was never a factor. Yet she embraced it, from an early start.
“This is the kind of public servant I want to be — transparent,” she told The Globe. Yet she has consistently been otherwise. For instance, while working at the University of Pennsylvania, she initially began work there recognized as being “White”. It was two years later that her race was altered to show “Native American”.
Warren has invited the focus on her Native American roots. That now infamous DNA test, which she willfully released, was even couched at first as “proof” she had been correct all along. That her purity was found to be at 1/1024 – on par with a vast majority of people in America – delivered more scorn and ridicule over her claim. So the question becomes how calculated has her intention been? 30 years ago she was willing to place herself professionally as a race she is today apologizing for claiming.
And the Washington Post looks to be in full massage-the-story mode. It is clear they intended to release this damaging tale immediately before the State Of The Union, where it would easily be overlooked by saturation media coverage of the speech. The document is not referred to in the headline, and the bulk of the piece focuses on her desire to put the controversy behind her, just ahead of the Presidential campaign.
Warren was given all manner to acknowledge and then explain this new discovery. This then allows the press cover, to allow them the patented technique of squelching controversy: “Hey, we already covered this. The story is old news.” Covered, but hardly blasted across the media spectrum in a fashion on par with, say, High school kids from Kentucky.
It will be telling to see how many, Like Willie Geist from NBC News, will be willing to accurately state this was cultural appropriation on the part of Elizabeth Warren.