By Mary Carmichael and Stephanie Ebbert
“At some point after I was hired by them, I . . . provided that information to the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard,” she said in a statement issued by her campaign. “My Native American heritage is part of who I am, I’m proud of it and I have been open about it.”
Warren’s statement is her first acknowledgment that she identified herself as Native American to the Ivy League schools. While she has said she identified herself as a minority in a legal directory, she has carefully avoided any suggestion during the last month that she took further actions to promote her purported heritage.
When the issue first surfaced last month, Warren said she only learned Harvard was claiming her as a minority when she read it in the Boston Herald.
No, of course not. Penn and Harvard thought she was Native because she told them so. They reported this claim to the government as if it were fact.
Warren claims she forgot that she told Harvard she was Native. Really? You forgot whether you told people you were white or Native? Did you also forget whether you told them you were male or female? Because that's about the same magnitude of error.
But let's assume she did forget. The correct answer in her previous comments would've been "I don't remember what I told Harvard." Not "I never told Harvard I was Native." If you don't remember, you say "I'm not sure" or "I don't know."
As I said before, the more she listed herself as "Cherokee" or "Native," the more she required evidence. Now we learn it was official. She helped her schools mislead the federal government on their diversity reports.
She didn't say she was white with Native ancestry, which might've been accurate. She flatly said she was Native despite having no known tribal ancestors. Indeed, despite having nothing but unreliable family rumors.
At a minimum, this listing let the schools deflect the hiring criticism they were receiving. They could say they had one "Native" professor so they didn't need to look for others. Consequently, did Native professors get less consideration for job openings? Quite possibly.
Although there's still no evidence that Warren used her imagined ancestry to get a job, it's looking more and more like she engaged in box-checking to get ahead. She can't claim she told her schools she was Native to meet other Natives--her prior flimsy excuse. The only reason you inform officials you're a minority is to benefit from it--officially.
Warren flunks crisis management
Another article notes the consequences of Warren's stonewalling and backtracking:
What Elizabeth Warren did wrong
By Chris Cillizza
But, when the Boston Herald first reported on the fact that Warren was listed as a Native American in a faculty directory, she said that she had no previous knowledge of that fact and had not authorized Harvard to list her as a minority. Warren’s campaign has said she forgot some details of her past employment as a way to explain the discrepancy in her statements.
And, it’s clear from the Globe story that Warren’s hand was forced by the fact that the newspaper had found proof that, in their words, “the university’s law school began reporting a Native American female professor in federal statistics for the 1992-93 school year, the first year Warren worked at Harvard, as a visiting professor.”
While the Warren campaign will insist that she is being consistent—that she has always said that she never told Harvard or Penn about her heritage before being hired or that it benefited her in any way—the optics of this back and forth are just terrible for her.
This could—and should—have been a minor nuisance for the campaign. No one is alleging that Warren used her minority status to get her jobs and it’s hard to imagine that in a campaign where the economy, jobs and debt are the overriding issues that whether Warren is Native American or not matters at all to voters.
But, Warren has turned a minor nuisance into a major storyline by not simply coming out with everything she knew—up to and including that she had formally told Harvard and Penn of her Native American heritage—about the whole episode right from the start.
“In Politics 101 you learn to get it all out and apologize on day one,” said one senior Democratic consultant who marveled at how the Warren campaign dealt with this episode. “‘Yep, I did it and I’m sorry.’ This has been handled amateurishly.”
By dragging out the story—the first Herald piece on it ran April 27!—Warren has turned it into, at the least, a distraction and, at the most, an issue to be used against her this fall.
This leads me to question her aptitude for politics. Not because of her questionable ancestry, which still isn't a decisive issue. Rather, because of her inability to manage this relatively simple controversy. If you don't understand public relations, I'm not sure you're qualified to hold public office. Politics is all about the art of the message.
For more on Elizabeth Warren, see Cherokee Website Targets Warren and Harvard Reported Warren as Native.
Below: "Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, right, takes questions from members of the media as Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick, left, looks on during an event at Warren's campaigns headquarters, in Somerville, Mass., Wednesday, May 30, 2012, during which Patrick formally endorsed Warren in her campaign for the Senate seat." (AP Photo/Steven Senne)