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The New York Times Crashes and Burns on Indian Coverage

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Once The New York Times was less bad than most national media in its Indian
coverage. True, Charlie LeDuff, himself Native, managed to annoy Mohawk
ironworkers and Charles V. Bagli, a real estate writer, took the Donald
Trump spin when he was leaked stories on the St. Regis tribal council. But
it did have some extensive reporting on stories like the White Mountain
Apache wildfire disaster. (The work got better the further the reporters
went from New York.)

Lately, however, this enormously influential paper has gone into a
tailspin. Its front-page story March 29 on tribal recognition was suitably
dissected in this space several issues ago by guest columnist Christine
Grabowski. Even her critique failed to exhaust its inaccuracies, however.
At one point the writer, Iver Peterson, referred to the BIA backdating
incident at the end of the Clinton administration. The interim BIA chief
Michael Anderson had forgotten to sign a positive recognition finding and
was asked by the staff to come back the week after his term expired to
formalize the paper. This was not a good idea, and it brought down the
wrath of Interior's Inspector General in a report catering to the BIA's
enemies.

But, like some others, Peterson got the tribe wrong. He referred to a
Northeastern tribe without naming it. This was clearly the Nipmuc Nation,
who in fact received a positive finding that was appropriately signed
before Anderson left. The in-coming Bush administration froze all of the
last-minute orders, and McCaleb later reversed the recognition, an act that
might well be the one deserving critical scrutiny. The Nipmuc are waiting a
new decision within weeks, so they aren't making a fuss about the error.
But the bad work at The New York Times keeps coming.

On May 6, a new hand covering the House Government Reform Committee
hearings thought it was a major disclosure that Donald Trump had bankrolled
a Connecticut tribe seeking federal recognition. Not only was the story old
news to anyone reading the Connecticut press, let alone this newspaper, the
cub reporter, Raymond Hernandez, also got the tribe wrong. He put Trump in
bed with the Eastern Pequots. The fact is that Trump was backing the
Paucatuck Eastern Pequots, and this nuance entails quite a story. The BIA
did recognize the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, combining the petitions of
the Paucatucks with the Eastern Pequots, who had their own financial
backing. The Easterns, along with many other Connecticut Indians, had been
deeply offended by Trump, and the combined tribal council refused to work
with him. So now Trump is suing the tribe and its backers in a $10 million
breach of contract suit.

The New York Times piece quoted committee member U.S. Rep. Christopher
Shays, R-Conn., as calling for a subpoena of Trump to find out what he
spent his money on. All these figures and more are already on file in the
New London courthouse, which is hearing Trump's suit. Hernandez, and
Peterson, did a poor job of reporting because they relied too heavily on
tainted sources, the increasingly obsessed Connecticut Attorney General
Richard Blumenthal and the professional anti-Indian crusader Jeff Benedict.

But there is no such excuse for the most shocking lapse of all. It appeared
the day after the Hernandez piece in The New York Times crossword puzzle.
Clue 16 across read "Extinct Algonquin", and the answer was "Miami." This
will be a major surprise to the federally recognized Miami Nation of
Oklahoma, the 3,000-strong Miami Nation of Indiana and the members of half
a dozen affiliated tribes in the Miami or Twightwee Federation. It was an
astounding blunder in what is normally the best-edited part of that paper.

The shame is that The New York Times began to fall apart almost as soon as
it made the commendable style decision to use "American Indian" instead of
"Native American." We still applaud this change since there are few things
more grating than to hear the "N-phrase" used with politically correct
smugness in articles that thoroughly distort the realities of Indian
country.