‘Gotcha!’ media coverage of Elizabeth Warren is already absurd

Let’s be honest: The Warren ancestry story has devolved into one about a soggy process. The press no longer really cares what the facts of her family background are, because they’re not especially  pressing. Instead, reporters now claim to care about how the story has unfolded and what the “optics” are, as journalists press the claim that Warren has bungled the issue—i.e., what does this all tell us about Warren as a person, a politician, and a possible president? And to do that, the press has continually tried to hang the news hook on the idea that Warren’s ancestry claims have enraged Native American leaders, and that Warren has been hit with “criticism from both sides of the aisle,” as the Washington Post recently claimed.

But that’s simply not true.

In terms of Democratic members of Congress and key progressive leaders, it’s almost impossible to find any who have faulted Warren on this story. (Rep. Deb Haaland, one of two Native American members of Congress, has thoroughly backed Warren on this issue.) As for Native American leaders, an excellent HuffPost article last month detailed how the press has completely misplayed the story.

After interviewing a dozen tribal chiefs, Native politicians, researchers, and influencers about the Warren story and the endless media coverage hyping a supposed controversy, HuffPost concluded, “The consensus was clear: This narrative is incredibly overblown. Tribal leaders have far more pressing matters to deal with than a senator’s DNA test.” “It’s media fodder. It’s sensationalism. That’s what it is,” Richard Sneed, the principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, said. “All it takes is for one person to say they’re offended, and then everybody does a dog pile.”

“The thing that really, really got me about these articles is that the emphasis is on all of the outrage on behalf of Native Americans, but they’re not talking to any Native Americans about it. At all,” Crystal Echo Hawk told HuffPost. Hawk is a member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma and the CEO and president of Echo Hawk Consulting.

Meanwhile, in terms of the campaign politics involved, the idea that Democratic candidates who run against Warren are going to jump on this Trump-driven attack line and raise the issue of her ancestry against her seems absurd. In fact, California Sen. Kamala Harris, an announced presidential candidate, was recently asked about the controversy and quickly passed:


Did you notice how absurd the reporter’s premise was? The state of Virginia is currently being rocked by one its biggest political scandals in generations, as two of the state’s top public officials are facing possible career-ending controversies. One revolves around the abhorrent practice of dressing up in blackface; the other involves allegations of sexual assault. Against that backdrop, a reporter on Capitol Hill asked if Warren inaccurately filling out forms several decades ago based on bad family-history information she had been given is similar to blackface or sexual assault.

It’s safe to say that the media has already lost perspective on the Warren story—and her candidacy is just a few days old.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.


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