Tuesday night’s CNN debate was a set-up. And that’s not some internet fever dream, it’s an observation shared by reporters from Rolling Stone and The Huffington Post to Fox News and The Daily Caller. Even late-night comedy picked up on the game.
The trap was set the day before, when the hosts of the debate published a story claiming that in 2018, during a private meeting between Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Sanders told Warren a woman can not win the presidency. Reporters have grown even lazier and more comfortable thinking readers are stupid, so the initial report cited four anonymous sources for a story about a one-on-one meeting denied by the Sanders campaign. It also included the hysterical line that Warren’s campaign “declined to comment,” despite the story coming from the candidate and being filled with anonymous Warren campaign comments.
CNN moderator Abby Phillip continued the trend of treating this alleged incident as fact the next night, dismissing Sanders’ denials and opting to ask Warren how the horrible, sexist things Sanders had said made her feel.
“The 24-hour network,” Matt Taibbi wrote at Rolling Stone, “combines a naked political hit with a cynical ploy for ratings.”
Four years prior, of course, Sanders lost the Democrat primary to Hillary Clinton. Before that race, he’d pushed Warren to run for president instead of him. Over the years prior, he’d been recorded on video telling an audience there is no reason a woman cannot win the presidency and telling schoolgirls they could one day win that prize. His supporters have been quick to point to these confirmed facts to dispute this unproven allegation, but there’s more to this equation.
Warren has lied about being an American Indian, about sending her kids to private school, and even being fired from a teacher position for being pregnant. All three are stories she has used to advance herself professionally and politically, repeating the latter claim as recently as Tuesday’s debate.
Many Americans have stories of ancestry they haven’t fact-checked. Growing up, I heard that my mother’s side of the family had Apache Indian blood in it. My grandfather had a painting in his living room of two Apache scouts hiding on a hill, watching a lone wagon amble by. He might bring up the family lore during a cowboy movie or when “The Last of the Mohicans” came on. That was the end of it. Warren, on the other hand, became Harvard University’s first tenured professor of color.
The school’s spokesman told Harvard Crimson Professor Warren was an American Indian in 1996. In 1998, the school newspaper again bragged, “Harvard Law School currently has only one tenured minority woman, Gottlieb Professor of Law Elizabeth Warren, who is Native American.’’ For years after, Harvard’s public diversity documents and other newspapers echoed the claim. We might all agree a publicly touted fake-diversity hire is a far cry from sharing family lore we’ve never properly investigated.
But Warren, the Globe reports, claimed she first heard of all this American Indian nonsense when The Boston Herald reported it during her first bid for the Senate. That, however, doesn’t check out either. By 1992, the Globe reports, “she had been listing herself for seven years as a minority in a legal directory often used by law recruiters to make diversity-friendly hires. She continued to list herself in the book until 1995, the year she took a permanent position at Harvard.”
Years before, in 1986, she registered with the Texas Bar as an “American Indian.” Two years later she contributed “Cherokee” recipes to the “Pow Wow Chow” cookbook. It’s still available on Ebay. Huh.
She’d dropped the act by the time the news broke, but President Donald Trump still enjoyed the story a great deal, teasing her at campaign rallies until she filmed a live reveal of her DNA test results to prove once and for all that she was indeed Cherokee. Her campaign sent one camera crew to Professor Carlos Bustamante’s office while another recorded the candidate on the other end of the line. “The president likes to call my mom a liar, what do the facts say?” she asks. “The facts,” he replies, “suggest that you absolutely have Native American ancestry in your pedigree,” as the shot switches to her satisfied smile.
“How much, 1/1000th?” Trump asked as reporters demanded his apology. Well, no, but somewhere between .09 percent and 1.5 percent, according to Bustamante, or, as The Intercept notes, “a bit less than the average white American.” The Cherokee Nation told her to stop it. She ended up apologizing and took the video down.
That’s not all. “We are going to have the same choice that you had for your kids,” a black woman quietly told Warren in Atlanta, “because I read that your children went to private schools.” Neither she nor her daughter, she told the senator, could afford to move to the suburbs, so the children’s best option for a good education and a better future was charter school.
“No,” Warren gently disagreed, “my children went to public schools.”
“Elizabeth’s daughter went to public school,” her campaign told The Washington Free Beacon. “Her son went to public school until 5th grade.”
“I read that your children went to private schools.”
But there’s more yet. Warren is particularly fond of telling the one about the school principal who fired her for being pregnant. “When I was 22 and finishing my first year of teaching, I had an experience millions of women will recognize,” she wrote in a Twitter version of her favorite stump story. “By June I was visibly pregnant—and the principal told me the job I’d already been promised for the next year would go to someone else.”
But before the Twitter version, she had another one she shared during an interview at Berkeley College: “I [taught] for a year, and then that summer I didn’t have the education courses, so I was on an ’emergency certificate,’ it was called. I went back to graduate school and took a couple of courses in education and said, ‘I don’t think this is going to work out for me.'”
And then there are the notes from the school board’s meeting, which say Warren was offered a contract renewal. Two months later, the board’s minutes show her resignation was accepted “with regret.” Five days after the Washington Free Beacon reported on those notes, Warren went to CBS to defend her campaign-trail version of events, saying the offer was withdrawn when she was visibly pregnant and her story on leaving education had changed because she’s now a senator and not just some nationally known law school professor.
Of course, employers discriminating against pregnant women happened then and despite a law against it, happens now. Like sending your children to public school, it’s the kind of story that connects with women and their families who might have the same experience in real life. Of course, that’s just what makes the incident with the principal the perfect campaign rewrite. That, and the villainous school principal passed away in 1999. “Elizabeth Warren’s Pregnancy Story is Unbelievable—If You’ve Never Known a Pregnant Woman in America,” The Daily Beast declared.
Maybe they’re right. Maybe Warren does speak for all women, including her 2011 campaign story about being the first woman to take the New Jersey Bar while breastfeeding. According to New Jersey records, “women have been taking the New Jersey bar exam since 1895,” though they’re “not aware their nursing habits were ever tracked.” Maybe she was joking with the crowd.
Listen, none of this matters. “Based on the fact that it’s a Tuesday in America, yes, sexism, misogyny, come on,” Democratic consultant Jehmu Greene said on Fox Business Tuesday evening, explaining how all men told Warren she could not be president. “I have heard everyone I know who is an armchair quarterback as it relates to this Democratic primary say something either exactly the same or similar.”
“And based on Bernie’s record himself,” she continued, “have you met a Bernie Bro? This is not a new narrative, he called Hillary Clinton unqualified in 2016!”
All candidates lie. Maybe all people lie. Our current president doesn’t have any aversion to exaggeration, nor did any before him. A book could be written on Sanders’ love-hate relationship with how much things cost. Then, a book could also be written on his history of supporting women. And Elizabeth Warren is a liar.