In my post yesterday, Elizabeth Warren Wikipedia page ethnically cleansed, I noted that the lengthy explanation of Elizabeth Warren’s false claim to be Cherokee had been almost entirely purged from Warren’s Wikipedia page.
My post set off some pretty vigorous debate among editors at Wikipedia.
One of the editors, who did not get his way, said my blog post should be ignored because Legal Insurrection “looks like a fairly standard-issue wingnut blog. Why should anyone take it seriously?”
A “standard-issue wingut blog”? I beg to differ. According to Elizabeth Warren’s campaign spokeswoman, we are full-fledged “right wing extremists” here for calling her out on the Cherokee issue. Give us some credit!
Anyway, this whole incident has been an eye-opener as to what goes on behind the scenes at Wikipedia. The good news is that the open nature of Wikipedia sorta, kinda worked here.
The attention of this blog caused significant changes to be made, including restoring a subsection devoted to the Cherokee issue (now called “Cherokee self-identification” instead of “Cherokee self-identification controversy”). Prior versions were much more detailed, and explored Warren’s obfuscations.
Does Wikipedia now give the full story of how Warren used the false claim to be Cherokee in a very strategic manner in her professional career and how she did not come clean during the campaign? No, but at least it does provide some more detail and links to sources which do tell more of the story. I’d like to see further improvement of the section.
As of this writing, the section reads:
In April 2012, the Boston Herald reported that in the 1990s Harvard Law School had, in response to criticisms about the lack of faculty diversity, publicized Warren’s law directory entries from 1986 to 1995, which listed her background as Native American ancestry. Warren said she identified as a minority in the law directory listing (of the 1980s and 1990s) in hopes of being invited to events to meet people of similar background. Harvard Law professor Charles Fried, who had served as Solicitor General in the Reagan administration and sat on the appointing committee that recommended Warren for hire in 1995, said that her heritage was never mentioned and played no role in the appointments process.
The Brown campaign called on Warren to “come clean about her motivations for making these claims and explain the contradictions between her rhetoric and the record”. Warren’s campaign responded that she was proud of her heritage and denied any wrongdoing. Warren’s claim angered many Cherokees, who questioned why she did not continue to list herself in directories or reach out to other Indians if she truly wanted to meet people like her. A group of Cherokee women sought to meet with Warren but were unsuccessful; one member of the group from Warren’s home state of Oklahoma said her claim was “shameful and extremely disrespectful not just to Cherokees but to all tribes”. A group of Cherokees started a website saying, “You claim to be Cherokee. You forget, it isn’t who you claim, but instead, who claims you. We don’t claim you!” In response, a Warren spokesperson emailed Politico a recycled statement that had been circulating for days.
Warren said she had not received any preferential treatment due to her claimed Native American heritage, and stated, “Every single person who has been involved in hiring me has issued a statement to that effect.”
The New England Historical Genealogical Society initially announced in May 2012 that they had found evidence for Warren’s claims, but later recanted, saying, “We have no proof that Elizabeth Warren’s great-great-great-grandmother O.C. Sarah Smith either is or is not of Cherokee descent.”
A Washington Post fact check article reviewed some of the claims and concluded that her claims to be Cherokee were not adequately documented, although noted this did not preclude the possibility of “traces of Native American heritage”.
We will continue to watch the page to make sure there is no further ethnic cleansing.
One of the reasons we are starting (soon!) a website devoted to documenting Elizabeth Warren’s history is that the truth about a powerful politican still matters. All of it.
Update 1-30-2013 — We created our own, Announcing ElizabethWarrenWiki.org