White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday accused reporters of devoting insufficient attention to Sen. Elizabeth Warren's claim of Native American ancestry.
“I don't understand why no one is asking about that question and why that isn't constantly covered,” Sanders said.
Perhaps the White House has forgotten that it was a newspaper's questions that first revealed in 2012 that Harvard Law School counted Warren as a minority faculty member. Maybe the White House also forgot the ensuing media scrutiny — which did not prove that the Massachusetts Democrat “lied about something specifically to advance her career,” as Sanders claimed.
The Boston Herald was first to report in April 2012 that when Harvard Law School students complained about a lack of diversity among the faculty, in the mid-1990s, the school countered with a tally of professors that it claimed were racial minorities, including Warren.
The tabloid's cover featured a close-up photograph of Warren's face and an all-caps headline: “HARVARD FLAW.”
Though its reporting represents the origin of President Trump's pejorative nickname for Warren, “Pocahontas,” the Herald on Tuesday printed a cover that criticized the president for using the nickname during Monday's White House ceremony to honor World War II-era Navajo code talkers.
On MSNBC Monday night, the Herald's chief Washington reporter, Kimberly Atkins, said, “There are very few things that I take personally in covering Washington as a reporter. But today it really stung. I mean, as a person of color who has been on the receiving end of racial slurs, to see the president go to that length ... really was bad, not just optically. It was bad for America. It's a sad day today.”
Hillary Chabot, the Herald journalist who broke the Warren story five years ago, praised Atkins's remarks in a tweet.
As reporters dug into Warren's ancestry — and her claims about it — during her successful bid to unseat Scott Brown, they found scant evidence of Native American lineage. The Boston Globe interviewed a genealogist at the New England Historic and Genealogy Society whose research led him to an old newsletter that referred to an 1894 marriage-license application on which Warren's great-great-great grandmother was listed as a Cherokee.
The newspaper noted that “neither the society nor the Globe has seen the primary document, whose existence has not been proven.” Even if the document is real, it indicates that Warren is only 1/32 Native American.
The Globe reported that Warren listed herself as a racial minority in an academic directory between 1986 and 1995.
Dubious as Warren's claim was, journalists did not uncover evidence that she advanced her career by claiming she was part Native American. Here's an excerpt from a May 2012 Globe report:
Faculty and deans from each of the law schools where she has taught have said her ancestry was not a factor in her hiring.
A portion of her transcript from George Washington University, where she began her undergraduate education on a debate scholarship, did not include a minority status, nor did an application to the University of Houston, which she attended after a transfer, according to records obtained by the Globe.
A section of Warren’s 1973 application to Rutgers, where she went to law school, was more direct. That document specifically asks: “Are you interested in applying for admission under the Program for Minority Group Students?’’ Warren answered “no.’’
In addition, a newly unearthed University of Texas personnel document shows that Warren listed herself as “white’’ when she taught at the law school there on and off from 1981 to 1991.
The strongest evidence of an unwarranted benefit was against Harvard, which reported for years in federally mandated diversity statistics that it had a Native American woman among the law school's senior ranks, even though Warren did not meet the government's definition of Native American. The inclusion of Warren made the law school faculty appear slightly more diverse than it actually was.