May 28, 2012

AP Predictably Leaves Harvard’s Violation of Federal Guidelines Out of Coverage of Liz Warren’s Claimed Indian Heritage

At the Associated Press, aka the Administration’s Press, Jesse Washington’s Friday evening coverage (“Who’s an American Indian? Warren case stirs query”) of the nuances involved in claiming Native American Indian heritage — or ancestry, or biology, or allegiance, or identity, or identification, or membership (and I’ve probably missed a couple) — occasioned by Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts is the journalistic equivalent of what the occasional Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball game was like (with final scores sometimes in the 20s) before the NCAA legislated the shot clock: a continuous exercise in stalling.

Washington’s report is time-stamped at 10:31 P.M., meaning that its last rendition was at least 18 hours after the Boston Globe performed a rare exercise in journalism and found the following, of which there is no hint in the AP story:

(on where her self-identification came from) According to both Harvard officials and federal guidelines, those statistics (on employees’ ethnicity) are almost always based on the way employees describe themselves.

In addition, both Harvard’s guidelines and federal regulations for the statistics lay out a specific definition of Native American that Warren does not meet.

… The Harvard document defines Native American as “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of North America and who maintains cultural identification through tribal affiliation or community recognition.” It notes that this definition is consistent with federal regulations.

It is not a definition Warren appears to fit. She has not proven she has a Native American ancestor, instead saying she based her belief on family lore, and she has no official tribal affiliation. The current executive director of Harvard’s Native American program has said she has no memory of Warren participating in any of its activities.

No ancestral proof, no tribal affiliation, no activities. Three strikes, and the ability to claim to be a Native American in any meaningful sense is out.

To the possible excuse that Washington was putting out a background piece on the nuances of who can and can’t claim to be “Indian” which is not meant to be a current news item: Nice try, no sale, because the AP has steadfastly stayed away from the Warren story, at least in national coverage for well over a week, as an AP national site search on Warren’s name demonstrates. Concerning the three relevant items listed besides Washington’s writeup (a fourth listing goes back to January 21, well before the controversy arose), a May 24 dispatch on Wall Street’s hiccups merely quotes Warren about the Facebook fiasco a May 23 item only identifies her as incumbent Republican Scott Brown’s challenger; and a May 17 report on the battle for control of the U.S. Senate describes her as having “stumbled recently following the disclosure that she had listed herself as having Native American heritage in law school directories.”

Washington’s report is even less forthcoming than the May 17 report just noted, only saying that “Warren, was listed as Native American in several law school directories” — as if it just magically happened.

Make no mistake here. Associated Press copy drives the news most people read, see, and hear, whether they realize it or not. If the AP isn’t reporting it, a large minority if not a majority of the American people will never learn of it. The Warren controversy is the kind of embarrassment with the potential to make the entire Democratic Party an object of national ridicule, especially given its decades-old obsession with racial and ethnic identification. That would be (excuse the expression) a heap big problem. The AP appears determined to ensure that it won’t happen. Even the Globe, even as it actually does some decent work for a change, seems aware of the danger to Democrats nationally. Its report, as Sweetness & Light astutely noted, appeared in of all places the paper’s Metro section.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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