Washington Post fact-checker: Warren DNA test ‘bungled’ by media


Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler on Thursday accused the media of misinterpreting the results of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) DNA test this week, saying outlets were too quick to parrot the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) criticisms of her claims to Native American ancestry. 

“It turns out reporters and politicians are not very good at understanding genetics,” Kessler, who writes for the Post’s Fact Checker, wrote. “So we will set the record straight, after reviewing the results in detail and consulting with genetics experts.” 

{mosads}The Boston Globe earlier this week reported that a DNA test indicated Warren is between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Native American. 

Warren touted the results as substantiating her past claims to Native ancestry, a fact that President Trump has mocked and called into question numerous times. 

“While the vast majority of the individual’s ancestry is European, the results strongly support the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the individual’s pedigree, likely in the range of 6-10 generations ago,” Kessler wrote, citing the report.

“Here’s where the reporting went off course,” he continued.

According to the report, Kessler writes, Warren had 10 times more Native American ancestry than a reference set from Utah and 12 times more than a set from Britain.

“The report also said that the long segment on Chromosome 10 indicated that the DNA came from a relatively recent ancestor,” he continued. “Those are significant findings. But reporters focused on the language indicating a range of between the sixth to 10th generation. That raised the prospect of an ancestor amid hundreds of great-great-great-etc.-grandparents.”

The release of her test results was immediately met with criticism from the GOP and Native American tribes. 

Republican lawmakers said Warren was falsely laying claim to a minuscule amount of Native ancestry, while Native Americans, including the Cherokee Nation, accused her of misunderstanding Native American identity, which they said lies more in culture and experience than in genetics. 

The RNC circulated press release pointing reporters to a New York Times article that seemed to indicate Warren had less Native American DNA than the average European-American, Kessler noted. 

“With reporters believing that Warren’s genome was only as much as 1.56 percent Native American, the article’s line that ‘European-Americans had genomes that were on average 98.6 percent European, .19 percent African, and .18 Native American’ made it appear as if Warren’s sample was even smaller than that of the average American,” Kessler wrote.

“Not so,” he continued.

Kessler wrote that Warren’s DNA test indicates “her claim to some Native American heritage is much stronger than most European Americans.” 

“We are not trying to defend Warren’s decision to release the test, just to set the record straight about what the test shows,” Kessler wrote. “The media bungled the interpretation of the results — and then Warren’s opponents used the uninformed reporting to undermine the test results even further.” 

He referenced a since-deleted tweet from the Post, which seemed to indicate Warren had less Native ancestry than the average European-American. “We fell into this trap as well,” he wrote.

Kessler added that Warren’s use of the DNA test to lay claim to Native American heritage likely alienated many within the indigenous community. 

An associate professor at the University of Alberta, Kim TallBear, told the Post that the “very desire to locate a claim to Native American identity in a DNA marker inherited from a long-ago ancestor is a settler-colonial racial understanding of what it is to be Native American.”

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