WASHINGTON — It is an odd contradiction. Senator Elizabeth Warren has shaped an image of herself as woman of the people, fighting for common middle-class families, unimpressed by her own power.
But since her 2012 election the Massachusetts Democrat has typically walled herself off from the media, refusing to answer questions in Senate hallways, frequently declining interviews, and adopting some of the same guarded, cautious communication strategies as the corporate CEOs she often pillories. Several weeks ago, a Warren aide physically blocked and reprimanded a Globe reporter seeking to ask Warren a question about the Boston Marathon bombings.
In her new book, “A Fighting Chance,’’ Warren offers a partial explanation for her skittishness around the press: She felt burned by a 2012 article that appeared in an online publication, The Daily Beast. She expresses her disapproval about the article even while acknowledging that the reporter quoted her accurately.
“I learned a painful lesson from that interview,” Warren writes. “The old way of talking with the press — long conversations and lively discussions — was gone. There was a huge difference between being an ‘expert’ and being a ‘candidate.’ The game had changed.”
The story began at McKay’s, a diner in Quincy, where Warren sat for an interview of around 20 minutes with Daily Beast reporter Samuel Jacobs. Her campaign spokesman, Kyle Sullivan, sat by and recorded the interview.
The reporter “really seemed engaged,” she writes. “Kyle said he thought it was a good interview. Me too.”
And then, a week and a half later, she read the article.
The headline was “Warren Takes Credit for Occupy Wall Street,” and it quoted Warren saying that she “created much of the intellectual foundation” for the nascent movement.
Warren could not believe she had said such a thing. She quickly contacted Sullivan, to review their recording of the interview. He already had. Indeed, the quote was correct.
“I was deeply embarrassed,” Warren writes. “My words sounded so puffy and self-important, and they made it seem as if I were trying to take credit for a protest I wasn’t even part of. I wondered if some alien had invaded my body and said something stupid while the real me was visiting a desert island.”
“I wondered if politics turned everyone into an idiot — or was it just me?” she added. “I wanted to cover my head with a blanket and never come out.”
Warren was troubled by another aspect, when her brother David said, “She’s not a lesbian.”
“My first thought was, he called my seventy-year-old brother? Why?” Warren writes. “And I had to wonder: I’d been happily married to the same man for thirty-one years; why would anyone be talking about whether or not I’m a lesbian? And what difference would it make if I were a lesbian?”
What Warren leaves out in her retelling is that, as Jacobs said in his article, Warren’s brother offered his comment about Warren’s sexuality unprompted. “She is not a lesbian,” the brother said. “I think I read that. That was comical.”
The quote was not sensationalized, and in fact was included in the broader context of politics and gender that Warren writes about in her book: how “the collision of politics, gender, and sexuality can be a nasty one for female candidates.”
Jacobs, who is now a senior editor at Time.com, declined to discuss specifics of Warren’s criticisms, saying the article speaks for itself.
“I enjoyed covering Elizabeth Warren during the 2012 campaign and look forward to the chance to interview her again in the future,” he said.
Warren’s Senate office and her book agent declined to comment. Her publisher did not respond to requests for comment.
Overall, the Daily Beast article was positive. Her comments about Occupy Wall Street were praised by her supporters. Nonetheless, Warren says her takeaway was to be wary of reporters, and more guarded in her public statements.
“I had to learn not to step on my own tongue,” she writes. She had assured people that she wouldn’t let political consultants change her, she says, “but like it or not, I had to change.”
“Not because of a consultant, but because I started to understand the cost of a stupid mistake,” she writes. “I wasn’t going to change who I was or what I was fighting for, but I was in a different boxing ring now. I needed to learn the new rules, and I needed to learn them fast.”
It was an ironic turn for a liberal intellectual who rocketed to stardom on the back of her media appearances and YouTube downloads.
A few years earlier, Warren appeared on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Before the show was taped, she found herself in a tiny guest bathroom at the studio, examining her face and jacket in the mirror.
“I had just vomited,” she writes. “I was miserable. I had stage fright — gut-wrenching, stomach-turning, bile-filled stage fright. And I was stuck in a gloomy little bathroom.”
Apparently she got over the stage fright. She went on and her appearance was widely praised and her profile continued to rise. She has been on the show at least three times since.
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.