The Native American Journalists Association is accusing The Huffington Post of violating journalistic ethics over an article defending Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test rollout.
The Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery claimed in an article last week that other media outlets manufactured Native American outrage over Warren’s claim to Native ancestry. According to Bendery, original reports about the DNA test did not include enough commentary from actual Native Americans, despite the fact that most cited a statement from the Cherokee Nation admonishing Warren.
“Mainstream Media Is Blowing Its Coverage Of Elizabeth Warren’s DNA Test,” Bendery wrote.
“I asked prominent tribal leaders and Native people about it. Surprise: they said Warren is an ally and this narrative is media fodder,” she later tweeted.
Missing from so much of the news coverage of Native people being outraged by Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test: Native voices.
I asked prominent tribal leaders and Native people about it. Surprise: they said Warren is an ally and this narrative is media fodder. https://t.co/f6EMJmHcds
— Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) January 4, 2019
However, Bendery and HuffPo are now facing backlash from The Native American Journalists Association (NAJA), which says they “oversimplified a complex topic” and did not appropriately cite Native American organizations and leaders.
In a statement, NAJA accused Bendery of “shallow analysis” of the situation and suggested that she harmed Indigenous communities and tribal citizens by downplaying the significance of Warren’s claim to ancestry and only speaking to a “handful” Native Americans.
“The idea that a handful of Indigenous people can speak for the majority is deeply rooted in hurtful stereotypes, colonial attitudes and ideas of racial superiority. Indigenous communities often hold conflicting viewpoints on important issues and show concern about multiple matters affecting their lives.”
Bendery’s claim that Native Americans were not offended by Warren’s DNA test was dependent on interviews with just two tribal chiefs — and there are 573 tribes throughout the nation.
Bendery interviewed Richard Sneed, the principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Dennis Coker, the principal chief of Delaware’s Lenape Indian Tribe, Frank LaMere, and a few prominent tribal citizens. The article also cited a public statement by Democratic New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, who supports Warren.
Interestingly enough, Bendery also spoke to a principal of the organization that is now chiding her — Doug George-Kanentiio, a co-founder of the NAJA. George-Kanentiio criticized the media’s reliance on Chuck Hoskin Jr., the secretary of state of the Cherokee Nation, as a primary source of Warren criticism.
“No one bothered to contact the principal chief of Cherokee Nation to see if he agreed,” George-Kanentiio is quoted as saying in the HuffPo article.
However, the Cherokee Nation later made clear that Hoskin Jr. was speaking on behalf of the organization when he said that Warren’s DNA test was “wholly unhelpful” to Native Americans. (RELATED: Cherokee Nation: Elizabeth Warren’s Claim Of Native American Ancestry ‘Inappropriate’)
NAJA now says Bendery “misrepresent[ed] the role or authority of an Indigenous official, such as the Cherokee Nation’s Secretary of State,” adding that it, “demonstrates an alarming lapse in fact checking, a fundamental misunderstanding of tribal politics and governmental structure and a deplorable error in sourcing.”
NAJA closes their statement with the following:
“NAJA hopes that Bendery, her editors and staff at Huffington Post reflect on this ethical negligence, apologize for their insensitive reporting, and employ substantive changes to improve their analysis of issues affecting Indigenous communities. NAJA also recommends that Huffington Post reporters take part in cultural sensitivity training to avoid publishing such errors in the future.”
Bendery and The Huffington Post have not yet publicly responded to NAJA’s statement and have made no changes to the article in question.
Warren released the DNA test in October to respond to repeated claims that she fabricated her Native American ancestry and to push back against President Donald Trump’s “Pocahontas” nickname for her. However, the test was not well-received politically and showed that Warren is a mere 1/64th to 1/1,024th Native American.
UPDATE (2:10 pm):
The Huffington Post provided The Daily Caller with the following statement:
“HuffPost respectfully disagrees with NAJA’s characterization of this story. We stand by our reporting and the perspectives reflected in the piece.”