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The Inexhaustable Wall Street Journal

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This week's goat is The Wall Street Journal, whose March 1, 2002 editorial "Big Chief Pataki" contains more distortions than any one rebuttal can handle. We are fascinated by the career of one particular quote from a General Accounting Office report, which has now been taken out of context and twisted by three separate newspapers. The Journal editorialist, as did reporters for the Hartford Courant and the Boston Globe, quotes the GAO as saying that tribal recognition is increasingly not about the merit of the case but "the resources that petitioners and third parties can marshal to develop a successful political and legal strategy." These three papers invoke the authority of the GAO for the conclusion that the current recognition procedure has become deeply politicized.

But that's not what the GAO said. Its November 2001 report "Improvements Needed in Tribal Recognition Process" makes that statement in the last sentence of its "Conclusions" section in the following context: The regulation-based recognition administered by the BIA is taking so long and setting such unpredictable demands for evidence that tribes are turning increasingly "to the Congress or courts to resolve recognition issues, which has the potential to undermine the entire regulatory process." It is when recognition gets into these arenas, Congress and the courts, that the GAO warns that the end result could be shaped by the resources in play.

We suspect that Boston Globe reporter Sean Murphy originally misrepresented this quote to support his idee fixe that the BAR was creating fictitious tribes, a conclusion nowhere supported by any serious study. We suspect The Wall Street Journal continued the distortion because its writer didn't bother to go back to the source material.