Pow Wow Chow-Gate: Therapy for The Feverish Media

As far as the midterm elections go, for the media and the talking heads it’s basically all over now, except the voting and the counting (and recounting).

Early voting has started.

Some reporters are still criss-crossing the country, and sending back breathless dispatches, which, if you look close, are mostly interchangeable: campaigns are all in high-gear, GOTV is everyone’s goal, voter suppression is widespread, attack ads are nonstop, the polls are inching up and down, early voting is underway, — and crazy presidential tweets keep flying.

Which is to say, there’s not much real news here. After all, unless there’s some shocking  October Surprise about to drop (no sign of such yet), this frenzy is exactly what you would expect.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m past burned out on watching or listening to talking heads yammer back and forth about, “Will the Dems take the House?” “Oh, maybe yes, maybe no.” “What about the Senate?” “Well, maybe no, but possibly yes.” After this long, it’s like  asking, “Will the market go up or down tomorrow?”

Surely many among the scribes must be fed up with this pointless speculation, and in the absence of actual new political news, many journalists and pundits — way too many, in my view — have gone rogue this week, and have decided to gnaw on the ankle of Senator Elizabeth Warren, over the six-minute video she released on October 15, about the matter of her Native American ancestry. 

A Fox host nearly falls out of his chair laughing about how “Warren”, translated into Cherokee, means “spreading bull.”

You know, “Pocahontas.” Her video does not shrink from showing some of the crudest, most egregiously offensive attacks, from Fox. Trump, and Sarah Sanders.

But Warren turned the thrust of that back on the accusers. The president told a big rally that if a DNA test showed Warren does have Indian ancestry, he’d personally donate a million dollars to the charity of her choice. The boast is in her video.

So she did the DNA test, done by a Stanford specialist, top of the field. She “passed” (an interesting word in this context): there was indeed an Indian in her family tree. Warren’s in-laws, who were dead set against their son marrying her mother, because her mom’s family was “part Indian” —  were not wrong. 

That it was several generations back made no difference: does anyone remember the “one-drop rule” for consigning light-skinned people to black slave status? That’s what the in-laws thought. (The couple eloped.)

So that was that; or should have been. Warren didn’t use this piece of her story to pursue formal enrollment into any tribe. And the video has more: she also methodically gathered testimony from those who did the hiring for all her law school jobs, underlining that no claim of “minority” status was ever part of any of those decisions. (Lots of the personnel paperwork is online for those who want more — plus ten years of her tax returns.) 

Somebody at Penn, and then Harvard, after she was already hired, described her as a “minority”;  that was their karma. She went along with the designation in some small, non-employment-related ways. But it was soon politically weaponized, and has followed her ever since she first ran for office six years ago. Clearly her goal was for the video to put the “Pocahontas” slur to rest.

Of course it hasn’t, and in a week when there’s really very little new political news, pundits seized on her foray like hungry dogs after a side of beef that fell off a truck. One after another, major papers calculated (and garbled) the DNA results.

Republican mockery was to be expected. Ross Douthat, the sometimes elegant conservative New York Times columnist, gleefully dubbed it “The Elizabeth Warren Fiasco,” declaring that by doing the video and “the new DNA test rebuttal to the president, she has demonstrated a conspicuous lack of political common sense.”  What seems to be the smoking gun for Douthat is that “she even contributed a family recipe to a Native American cookbook.” 

The ever predictable Fox News piled on, crowing that, “When it comes to political mistakes [she] . . . just made a doozy. President Trump wasted no time drawing more attention to Warren’s foolish move with two stinging tweets Tuesday.”

So did the RNC. Its release whooped (wrongly) that “Warren might even be less Native American than the average European American.” Trump swiftly tweeted an echo: “Pocahontas (the bad version), sometimes referred to as Elizabeth Warren, is getting slammed. She took a bogus DNA test and it showed that she may be 1/1024, far less than the average American.”

Gosh, if she hadn’t done it, does anyone think Trump would have stopped sending out racist tweets about her? Really? {His early comment: “a scam and a lie.” Also: “Who cares, who cares?”}

What was surprising to me was how eager some liberal pundits were to jump into the echo chamber. The one who made the biggest fool of himself  was the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank. He struck a faux empathetic tone:

“Poor Elizabeth Warren.

She took President Trump’s bait and submitted to a DNA test to demonstrate her Native American genealogy — and, in so doing, may have doomed her presidential campaign before it began.” 

And why were her hopes now hopeless? Milbank made a grab for Ross Douthat’s smoking gun, agreeing that it was “her contribution to the ’80s cookbook, Pow Wow Chow: A Collection of Recipes from Families of the Five Civilized Tribes, especially when he found that one of the recipes Warren submitted was for a cold crab omelet. Further, he insinuated, it was plagiarized from the New York Times. This was enough to convince Milbank why “all people of good taste — might wish to disavow Warren: It’s the crab mayonnaise.”

Note: “A Collection of recipes from Families of the Five Civilized Tribes . . . .” It doesn’t say the recipes are for “traditional Indian cuisine,” or that the recipes were invented by the families. And maybe the contributors actually found some in other sources and liked them. This faux outrage soufflé falls as flat as a pancake.

It’s peculiar that Milbank would start talking about plagiarism. His “Pow-Wow-Chow-Gate” cookbook exposé was lifted straight from a New York Post columnist, who says he got it from that paragon of creative, but rarely authoritative research, Breitbart.

This is what happens when there’s not much real political news, and the next important date is three weeks way. The bar has to be lowered from payoffs to a porn actress, being in Putin’s pocket, covering for Saudi hitmen, to that true herald of the Apocalypse, mayonnaise.

Not to mention that Milbank, who on October 17 pronounced Warren’s presidential hopes DOA, is the same guy who assured his Beltway audience many times that there was no way in Hades that Donald Trump would even get to first base in the 2016 presidential race, never mind through the primaries, and would certainly not win the GOP nomination. 

Dana, “The Prophet” Milbank, eating his words about how Trump would never get anywhere in the GOP in May 2016.

Milbank’s record on Trump was so embarrassingly, continuously, dreadfully wrong that he tried to banish it with a jokey video shoot in a Post conference room, literally eating his words, which he hired a chef to make palatable. So we can take his pontificating on Warren with a big pinch of salt, or at least, some crab mayo.

Milbank reached for a kicker by adding that Chuck Hoskin, the spokesman for the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma had denounced Warren and her DNA test, saying,

“A DNA test is useless to determine tribal citizenship. . . . Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong. It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens, whose ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is proven. Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.”

This sounds very stern, but it is remarkably out of context. For one thing, Warren took the test to see if a story in her family had any factual basis; and it did. DNA tests don’t identify tribe, only genes.

For another, the Cherokee Nation’s record regarding defining and protecting Indian citizenship and “tribal interests” is decidedly mixed and hardly a model: in its efforts to become a “civilized tribe,” for instance, the Cherokee adopted American slavery; then it sided with the Confederacy in the Civil War; and as recently as 1972 it expelled thousands of enrolled members whose “well documented heritage” included the “taint” of being mixed with African American blood. Most were mixed blood descendants  of Cherokee slaves, who had been declared “Freedmen” and full tribal citizens by a post-Civil War treaty. (At the same time, mixed-blood Cherokees whose ancestry was part white got to stay on the tribal rolls.)

When this action was decried as baldly racist, tribal leaders retorted that this was their prerogative as a sovereign nation, and everyone else should butt out.

It was indeed their sovereign prerogative, yet the Cherokee establishment seemed to have forgotten that the U. S. Congress, which doles out tens of millions of dollars for various tribal services, is also sovereign. The Congressional Black Caucus was outraged by the expulsions, and soon many of these millions were being held up by the sovereign on Capitol Hill, while the CBC demanded that the black Cherokees be readmitted.

The tribe’s leadership stalled for years, but upholding its “sovereign” racial exclusion and expecting federal acquiescence was a losing bet. In late 2017, after years of litigation and pressure, the Cherokee leadership finally gave in and abandoned the racial expulsion policy.

So the Cherokee establishment’s opinions about Warren and her Indian ancestor are of interest but hardly definitive, especially when (to repeat) she didn’t use her DNA test to apply for tribal membership, nor has she sought one cent of its benefits (unless one counts the cookbook).

One more thing: their home turf, Cherokee County, voted for Trump by 60+ percent. It also produced big majorities against Obama twice (as, for the record, did all of the seventy-seven counties in Oklahoma). 

Which suggests to me that the odds of their rolling out the welcome mat for a feisty Democrat presidential aspirant were always pretty low, and it’s fair game to take this background into account.

But Warren hardly forgot the Cherokee despite their officials’ cold shoulder to her. Nor did she let Trump slide out of his million-dollar pledge to charity if she took the DNA test. “Please send the check to the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center,” she tweeted to him.

Here it is, Donnie. The website is http://www.niwrc.org , to get information about where to send the $1 million check.

And: “Release your tax returns — or the Democratic-led House will do it for you soon enough. Tick-tock, Mr President.”

By the way, Warren’s video, after three days online, has had 937,000 views; and counting.

[Note to Dana Milbank — keep that chef’s phone number handy, Dude; at the rate you’re going, you may end up having more special prolix meals to get through. The Post’s own “Fact-Checker” gave its own coverage of the DNA story three Pinocchios, which is pretty damning. And if that mealtime comes, I know where you can get some really interesting mayonnaise.]

The Washington Post’s rating for lousy or false reporting. Four Pinocchios is the worst. Their own garbled coverage of the DNA story got a three.

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4 thoughts on “Pow Wow Chow-Gate: Therapy for The Feverish Media”

    1. No, but my granddaughter has. She was told by her Nana (my first wife), that her Nana had been told that there was Blackfoot Indian blood in her family. Granddaughter did the “23 & Me” DNA test not long ago, and it came back saying there was NO Indian DNA in her chromosomes. Ah well; what gave rise to that story? I don’t know. Her Nana never did anything about “claiming her Indian heritage,” to my knowledge anyway, beyond repeating this story from time to time.

  1. Thanks so much for this! I applaud Warren’s efforts to shut up Drumpf but it is SO difficult to do. Yet now he denies even saying that he would donate $1million to a charity, proving once more that truth is a dirty word to him.

    1. Thanks, Pat. Obviously Warren’s test & video have not scattered the scoffers — and I did not expect they would. Derision & mockery is their assignment, and they will pursue it to the end, never mind the facts. For me, and I think many others, it shows Warren taking on the accusation of telling a false family story and showing the story to have a factual basis, and doing the same with exposing the change that her family history was used to advance her career over her qualifications. Personally, her uncontested reputation as a teacher is such that I’d love to be able to attend some of her classes, even tho I’ve no interest in becoming a lawyer.

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