WaPo Fact Checks Scott Brown on Warren's Misleading Heritage Claims

The Washington Post's fact checker has weighed in on the story of Elizabeth Warren's Native American heritage. Rather than fact-check Warren's evolving and demonstrably false claims, the Post decides to fact check Scott Brown and awards him two Pinocchios.

The story of Elizabeth Warren's heritage has been one of changing statements. In April, Warren claimed she had no idea she'd been touted as a Native American by Harvard until she read it in the Crimson. Then, on May 2nd, she revised this and claimed that her heritage had come up during a casual lunch conversation. Finally, after it became clear that she was listed as Native American during her part time tenure at Harvard in 1992-1993, she admitted she "provided that information."

The Post could have offered the easiest fact check in the world by just comparing Warren's April statement to her May 31st one. Conclusion: Warren initially lied about what she had told Harvard. But the Post did not do that. Instead, they waited until Scott Brown was asked to comment on Warren's character.

[Elizabeth Warren] checked the box. She had an opportunity, actually, to make a decision throughout her career. When she applied to Penn and Harvard, she checked the box claiming she was Native American, and, you know, clearly she’s not.

Starting with this statement, the Post concludes that Brown has gone too far because "there is no proof that she ever marked a form to tell the schools about her heritage." This statement is narrowly correct. And yet, you have to step back and be amazed by how fine the parsing is here. Let's review the facts.

  • In 1992-1993, Harvard listed Warren as a Native American, i.e. someone actually checked a box on a government EEOC form.
  • Warren "provided" her claims of Native American heritage. She admitted this when pressed this information came from her.
  • There are only two ways Warren could have provided it: checking a box or verbally.
  • Either way, Warren had no right to make this claim. She did not meet the definition in terms of proven heritage or affiliations with Native American groups, both of which are required.

With all this at hand, fact-checker Glenn Kessler focuses in on the narrow issue of whether Warren literally, with pen in hand, checked a box on a piece of paper. On that, we can't be sure since Harvard and Warren have refused to release the records. But, back in the real world, does it matter? Whether Warren physically checked the box or whether she told someone else who did it for her the result is the same: She intentionally misrepresented her heritage on official reports. The box was either checked by her or for her.

Kessler actually conflates two of Warren's serial claims about this in his analysis. I've added the dates of Warren's statements in brackets below:

Warren has said that she provided information about her purported Native American background to the universities after she was hired[May 31st], saying it “came up in lunch conversation.” [May 2nd] The campaign declined to tell the Globe whether the Democratic candidate provided information about her lineage to Harvard and Penn verbally or by checking a box on a form. [May 31st]

Since we're parsing things extra-fine, notice that Warren declined to state how she provided the information to Harvard when she finally admitted doing so. Kessler inserts the bit about it coming up at lunch, but that was part of a previous claim intended to suggest it came up casually. The whole point of the May 31st Boston Globe story is that Warren's previous statement (it came up over lunch) has been superseded by a new, different claim. She now recalls that she "provided" the information to Harvard, i.e. formally.

Ask yourself a simple question. Does it matter whether Warren physically checked a box or instead made an affirmative verbal claim which led someone else to do it for her? The Post finds two Pinocchios' worth of difference between the two. Is this really reasonable?


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