Sullivan: The Elizabeth Warren pregnancy smear shows how poisoned the media world is
A news report can be narrowly factual, and still plenty unfair.
And so it was with a “revelation” regarding one element of Elizabeth Warren’s personal history, oft-told on the campaign trail: That her 1971 pregnancy caused the 22-year-old to be “shown the door” as a public-school teacher in New Jersey — an unwanted career change that put her on the path to law school and public life. (Warren, of course, is now a Democratic Massachusetts senator who is a leading 2020 presidential candidate.)
The conservative Washington Free Beacon’s new top editor, Eliana Johnson, late of Politico and the National Review, kicked off the contretemps with a report Monday that dug up the minutes from the Riverdale, New Jersey, school board showing that Warren had been offered another term and that her eventual resignation was accepted with regret.
The headline: “County Records Contradict Warren’s Claim She Was Fired Over Pregnancy.”
Shockingly, nowhere on these documents is it stamped: “The all-male board fired this young woman because she was pregnant and because of its deep-seated misogyny.” (And, more seriously, nowhere in the story is it indicated that the renewal offer likely came before school district honchos knew Warren was pregnant.)
Conservatives and pro-Trumpers gobbled it up — and spit back out an amped-up version, one less tethered to facts. The poisoned version quickly spread into the larger mediasphere.
“Another Elizabeth Warren Lie About Elizabeth Warren?” tweeted Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, who — credit where due — does have proven expertise on the subject of lying.
The right-wing Federalist agreed “lie” was the right word with its headline: “Records Show Elizabeth Warren Lied About Being Fired For Being ‘Visibly Pregnant’.”
An embedded video kept it even simpler: “Warren Lied.”
Before you knew it, Fox News, in its wisdom, had jumped in. The chyron: “Warren Facing New Credibility Questions.”
Fox anchor Dana Perino assembled some pundits to consider it — among them Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary under George W. Bush, who framed it as a troubling “character issue” for Warren. This gave Fox a chance to revisit Warren’s earlier blunder over claiming significant Native American ancestry.
Of course, it’s one of the jobs of the press to scrutinize presidential candidates — to “scrub” them, in the journalistic lingo.
Elizabeth Warren is no different, liberal darling though she is.
As the Free Beacon’s Johnson told Vox, “foundational myths” spun on the campaign trail deserve skepticism: “It seems to me that these sorts of claims, whether it’s Democrats or Republicans making them, warrant scrutiny.”
Fair enough. And Warren’s campaign seemed to have made a tactical mistake by not responding immediately, though they were given the opportunity by the Free Beacon, according to its story.
If Warren had shot back as cannily to this as she did to the recent absurd report that she’d had an affair with a 24-year-old Marine (she wittily tweeted out an image of her alma mater, the University of Houston and their mascots, the Cougars), she could have swatted this away.
It wasn’t until the next day that some much-needed perspective began to emerge, thanks to a CBS News report.
It included crucial context that would have been ever-so-helpful in the initial piece, like this interview with a retired Riverdale teacher, Trudy Randall: