Last week, CNN's coverage of the 2020 presidential election failed to acknowledge the contributions of Native American voters and organizers, drawing harsh criticism online. The backlash began when the network used a graphic to break down the races of voters who participated in exit polls, naming white, Latino, Black and Asian Americans, but consigning the rest to the category "something else."
"In an election largely driven by race, the media still fails to accurately cover voters of color. For Native Americans, we're not even named," tweeted the host of the This Land podcast Rebecca Nagle, alongside a photo of the graphic. Others soon took notice as well, arguing that Native Americans are a big and important enough demographic to earn their own spot on this chart. They also highlighted the importance of the Native American vote in this election.
Last night @CNN called Native voters “something else”.
In an election largely driven by race, the media still fails to accurately cover voters of color.
For Native Americans, we’re not even named. pic.twitter.com/h2Q5iRpWWa— Rebecca Nagle (@rebeccanagle) November 4, 2020
Among other milestones, the 2020 election set a new record for the number of Native Americans elected to congress, with six people in total -- three Democrats and three Republicans, according to a report by CBS News. This was a huge proportion of the 13 Native American candidates who were running for office this fall altogether. Native American voters were also pivotal in the election, swaying key races in states like Arizona, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Minnesota and Nevada.
After CNN's coverage, the Native American Journalist Association publicly demanded an apology from the network. In a statement published on Thursday, they wrote: "Being Native American is a political classification — not merely a racial background. Native nations have had a government-to-government relationship with the United States since the country's earliest days. To refer to Indigenous voters as 'something else' fails to recognize the sovereignty and political classification of Native voters."
"NAJA demands CNN issue a public apology and is willing to meet with senior editorial staff to discuss how to improve the network's coverage of Indian Country," the statement continued. "In the interim, NAJA encourages CNN's senior newsroom leadership and staff to utilize its online reporting resource guides moving forward."
So far, it does not appear that CNN has repsonded to this call.
Meanwhile, the "something else" label spawned a subgenre of memes all on its own this weekend, mostly among Native Americans on Twitter. The phrase was imposed on images of Native Americans in media over the years, or even of white people dressed as Native Americans. Several prominent Native American pundits even changed their Twitter handles to "something else" as a joke.