Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is displaying the same sort of political instincts that lost Hillary Clinton the 2016 presidential election.
On Monday, the senator shared the results of a DNA test she claims puts to rest the controversy surrounding her identifying as Cherokee Indian when she taught in the 1990s at Harvard Law School. It doesn't. In fact, the report makes the senator look even more dishonest than originally suspected. It also makes her look supremely incompetent. But you wouldn't know it from the way certain members of news media are treating the test's release.
The DNA report shows that Warren is maybe six or 10 generations removed from having any ties to Native American ancestry, which would make her somewhere from 1/64th to 1/1,024th Native American. It all depends on the ancestral roots of her great-great-great-great-grandmother, which neither the report nor Warren can say. Also, there’s the problem that the study wasn’t based on Native American DNA from within the United States, but on Mexican, Peruvian, and Colombian DNA. Vindication indeed.
That the DNA test leaves it as a tossup between Warren being 1/64th and 1/1,024th Native American hardly “vindicates” the senator from President Trump and the GOP’s criticism she tried to benefit undeservedly from claiming minority status in her places of work. Her now admittedly tenuous claim to Cherokee Indian heritage certainly doesn’t insulate Harvard from questions about why it cited the senator’s supposed ancestry when it was criticized for its lack of minority representation. It doesn't make the Fordham Law Review referring to Warren in 1997 as Harvard Law School's "first woman of color” or the fact that the senator listed herself as a "minority" for several years in the Association of American Law Schools desk book any less ridiculous. The test does nothing to explain why her two employers, Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania, listed her as "Native American" in federal forms. The test also does nothing to "vindicate" Warren's oft-repeated claim that her parents were forced to elope because her supposedly Cherokee mother was ostracized by her father's family.
"She was a beautiful girl who played the piano. And he was head over heels in love with her and wanted to marry her. And his family was bitterly opposed to that because she was part Native American," Warren told Fox News as recently as 2017. Sure.
Anyone with half a brain can tell you the DNA report is a disaster for Warren. She would have been better off refusing to provide any proof of her ancestral claims, leaving the matter eternally ambiguous. But so eager was the senator to play to her base that she and her team actually touted this report as good news. Likewise, so eager were certain members of the press to get at Trump that they rushed to share a DNA test that is more of a massive self-own for Warren than anything else.
“Warren reveals test confirming ancestry,” declared a headline published by the Boston Globe. The Globe’s story, which was the first of such reports, has been corrected twice due to the author’s poor understanding of basic math. The since-corrected errors suggested falsely that Warren’s heritage claims are stronger than the DNA report shows.
Now is as good a time as any to remind everyone that the Boston Globe is the same newsroom that quietly issued a major correction in 2012 after it claimed with no proof that Warren’s great-great-great grandmother was Native American.
“Because of a reporting error, a story in the May 1 Metro section and the accompanying headline incorrectly described the 1894 document that was purported to list Elizabeth Warren’s great-great-great grandmother as a Cherokee,” the correction read. “The document, alluded to in a family newsletter found by the New England Historic Genealogical Society, was an application for a marriage license, not the license itself. Neither the society nor the Globe has seen the primary document, whose existence has not been proven.”
CNN reported elsewhere Monday, “Elizabeth Warren releases DNA test with 'strong evidence' of Native American ancestry.”
"A DNA analysis done on Sen. Elizabeth Warren provides strong evidence she has Native American heritage, a claim her critics have long mocked," the Associated Press said on social media.
“BREAKING,” said the Daily Beast, “Elizabeth Warren releases her DNA test: Yes, she is Native American."
The New York Times’ Nick Confessore meanwhile revealed his own low standards for evidence, tweeting Monday that Warren "has provided definitive proof,” of her Native American ancestry.
Naturally, the Trump administration was unimpressed with Warren’s DNA report. White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, for example, said of the study that, “I know that everybody likes to pick their junk science or sound science depending on the conclusion it seems some days, but I haven't looked at the DNA test and it really doesn't interest me.”
The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake responded indignantly on social media, “The Trump admin[istration], for the second time in 12 hours: Don't believe science.”
The DNA report is neither precise science nor are its findings definitive proof of Warren’s claims. But these reporters probably already knew that.