I’m less sure than Carl that the revelation of seemingly false claims of Native American heritage by both Warren and her employer and Warren’s plagiarizing of “traditional” Cherokee recipes from the New York Times are fatal to her candidacy. The Warren phony Native American story is huge in the Massachusetts center-right media. It is all over the Boston Herald, and the most popular local conservative talk show is wall-to-wall on Warren’s silly and feeble defenses of her conduct. If you are inclined to consume right-leaning media, you could marinate in this stuff. But what does it look like to the swing-voters who don’t pay an enormous amount of attention to politics, don’t patronize the explicitly conservative media, and don’t strongly affiliate with either party?
The conservative media has pushed the nonconservative media to cover the issue. And it took some real pushing. Scott Brown felt that he had to comment on the matter. You’ll notice that Obama didn’t feel any need to comment on the Romney high school “bullying” story from last week to get the media to cover it. The local television channels have covered it some. The influential Boston Globe first tried to defend Warren, but then backed off (though if all you know about the Warren flap is what you read in the Globe, you don’t know much.) Our notional swing-voters will have some idea that Warren falsely claimed Native American heritage and might or might not have gained some professional benefit from the claim. They will also know that this wasn’t just some “news” story. It was a story uncovered and pushed by Warren’s political enemies. Our swing-voters will also hear other things about Warren. The will know about the scourge of Wall Street stuff. The phony Native American story will be part - but only part -of the Warren picture. That is probably as it should be.
But what would have happened if Warren had been a Senate candidate identified with the Tea Party rather than Occupy Wall Street? The local nonconservative media would have picked up on it a lot faster. The national Sunday talk shows would have booked chin stroking sessions where panelists wondered whether Tea Party Warren was a liar, a lunatic, a racist or some combination. There would have been feature stories with aggrieved Americans of genuine Cherokee background explaining how much they were hurt. The Tea Party Warren story would have crossed over into pop culture with SNL skits and jokes from the late night comedians. If Warren had been a Tea Party-affiliated candidate, the phony Native American stuff wouldn’t have been something swing-voters knew about her. If Warren had been Michelle Bachmann, the phony Native American stuff would be the first fifteen things swing-voters heard about her and nothing else they heard would matter. It is the difference between being wounded and being incinerated.
I’m only sort of complaining. The asymmetry between conservative and liberal media power is something that the center-right can overcome, but it does change how things play out. Warren has been hurt by this. Scott Brown has a better chance of being reelected because Warren was some combination of careless and dishonest. But I don’t think she is finished. I hope Carl is right and I’m wrong.