Inevitably, a backlash followed. Skeptics and cranks dug up dentally impeccable photos of Tirado taken years after her car accident as well as a July 2011 post detailing her unstable but privileged upbringing, which included private schooling — even a stint at the exclusive boarding school Cranbrook, alma mater of Mitt Romney — and ample cultural enrichment: “I had private music lessons from the age of four … I owned twenty-three instruments when I was twelve. I toured Europe as a featured soprano the summer after I graduated high school.” Over Thanksgiving weekend, the Houston Press published an impassioned debunking of “Poverty Thoughts.” On Tuesday, Mediaite went so far as to declare “Poverty Thoughts” “a hoax.”
Tuesday was also the day Tirado posted her video in response to the doubters. This was not her first bizarre postscript to “Poverty Thoughts.” The first was a mystifying update she added to the essay after her GoFundMe account was already fat with donations: “Not all of this piece is about me. That is why I said that they were observations.” (Note to the children of America: Next time Mom or Dad catch you in a tall tale, try, “I wasn’t exaggerating; I was making an observation.”) She later described herself as “comfortably working-class,” contradicting her self-presentation in “Poverty Thoughts.”
It’s a decent bet, however, that Tirado’s story is largely true, thanks to reporting by The Nation’s Michelle Goldberg, who interviewed Tirado and one of her former employers, Ryan Clayton (who attested both to Tirado’s diligence and her damaged teeth). And plenty of fair-minded people, including her GoFundMe benefactors, could readily accept the idea that Tirado — despite the house her parents helped her get, despite the advantages of social class and cultural capital that secure you a spot at Cranbrook or on the homepage of a Gawker Media site — believes herself to be “a poor person,” a thinker of “poverty thoughts.” But the fact is that Linda Tirado, the woman who explained poverty to the nation, is almost certainly not one of the 50 million Americans now living in poverty. “Broke” or “downwardly mobile,” maybe, but not poor. And that says less about Tirado’s credibility than it does about our stringent standards for defining poverty in America.