Now I don't think that the Administration education honchos who have been repeating the claim about welfare mothers' vocabularies set out to deliberately distort Hart and Risley's research. My guess is that none of them actually read the study -- this has the sound of one of those third-hand factoids that are always making their way around the scientific grapevines. But even so, it's telling that they found this a credible sound-bite. Whether you're disparaging the vocabularies of welfare mothers or the Cherokee, the claim always carries an unfortunate tone of condescension. It's easier to ignore people's voices when you've decided they couldn't possibly have one.
I think this goes along with what an ongoing discussion I've been participating in about racism and sexism in the media. It's very easy to assume these ridiculous assertions are true when there are few representatives present to refute them, or few who have the energy to do any refuting.