The Native American Journalists Association expresses concern about the Huffington Post’s “Mainstream Media Is Blowing Its Coverage Of Elizabeth Warren’s DNA Test” article by Jennifer Bendery and its impact on Indigenous communities and tribal citizens.
It is the job of journalists to analyze and contextualize information for audiences, and as per the SPJ Code of Ethics, it is a basic tenet of journalism to “take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.” The Huffington Post, however, has not followed this established guideline and has oversimplified a complex topic that is critically important to Indigenous communities.
Ms. Bendery has applied a shallow analysis to a complicated, emotionally charged topic that has invited multiple interpretations from all corners of Indian Country, and concluded that “tribal leaders have far more pressing matters to deal with than a senator’s DNA test.” This analysis is not only inaccurate, it is a disservice to audiences that may not be familiar with how charged Warren’s DNA results have been and betrays the trust and agency of Indigenous communities most impacted.
Perhaps most egregiously, the story provides no analysis about the underlying question that is the central issue: Is Warren’s claim and the roll out of the DNA test results harmful to Native people and their political and cultural identity? The answer to this question lies at the heart of the controversy, and Huffington Post’s failure to examine it is negligent and irresponsible.
The story minimizes the consequences and concern surrounding Warren’s DNA test results by comparing them to issues like domestic abuse, teen suicide, and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. To suggest that the response to Warren’s DNA test is overblown because tribal leaders have more “pressing matters,” is inadequate.
Additionally, to misrepresent the role or authority of an Indigenous official, such as the Cherokee Nation’s Secretary of State, demonstrates an alarming lapse in fact checking, a fundamental misunderstanding of tribal politics and governmental structure and a deplorable error in sourcing.
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.
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.