Right-wing media pushes bogus story about Kamala Harris' book being given to immigrant kids

When the Murdoch tabloid finally corrected its fake story, it had already circulated throughout right-wing media

Published April 27, 2021 10:05PM (EDT)

Vice President Kamala Harris (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Vice President Kamala Harris (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The New York Post, a conservative tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch, published an entirely bogus story — which eventually made its way into the White House briefing room — claiming that Vice President Kamala Harris' children's book "Superheroes Are Everywhere" was being passed out to migrant children who had recently arrived in the U.S. On Tuesday, the Post deleted the two stories making the false claim from its site, only to publish corrected versions hours later to place the articles back online with a brief editor's note. 

On Tuesday evening, Post reporter Laura Italiano, who said she was "ordered to write" the original story — based entirely on a single Reuters photograph — announced her resignation from the paper.

Italiano's original front-page story reported: "Unaccompanied migrant kids brought from the U.S.-Mexico border to a new shelter in Long Beach, Calif., will be given a copy of [Harris'] 2019 children's book, 'Superheroes are Everywhere,' in their welcome kits." 

But after the Washington Post and CNN began fact-checking the claim, it fell apart. One copy of Harris' book was donated to a migrant shelter in Long Beach, California, along with numerous other items, as the Washington Post reported: "Long Beach city officials told The Washington Post that Harris's book is not being handed out in welcome kits. A single copy of the book was donated during a citywide donation drive; officials said."

City of Long Beach spokesman Kevin Lee told the Washington Post the single volume was collected as part of "a citywide book and toy drive that is ongoing to support the migrant children who are temporarily staying in Long Beach at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shelter," adding that Harris' book "was not purchased by HHS or the City."

A New York Post representative informed Salon that an outside spokesperson could comment on the matter, but the communications firm Rubinstein & Associates did not return Salon's request for comment. 

Late on Tuesday afternoon, an editor's note was added to the revised version of the original story: "The original version of this article said migrant kids were getting Harris' book in a welcome kit, but has been updated to note that only one known copy of the book was donated to a child." 

By that time, this completely false narrative had run its course in the right-wing media ecosystem. "After learning officials are handing out Kamala Harris' book to migrants in facilities at the border, it's worth asking… Was Harris paid for these books? Is she profiting from Biden's border crisis?" RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted on Monday. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., tweeted, "Now they're forcing taxpayers to buy Kamala Harris's book to give to those illegal immigrants?" 

Fox News host Tucker Carlson also amplified the bogus story during his Monday primetime show, wrapping the mini-segment on the story by asking viewers, "How many copies exactly?" 

The now-debunked story even made it into a White House press conference, by way of Fox News reporter Peter Doocy, who asked press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday about the alleged books being passed out, citing the New York Post story.

The Post also deleted and then corrected a second story on Tuesday, based on the Doocy-Psaki exchange during the Monday press conference. An editor's note was attached to the story featuring the same correction appended to the paper's first bogus article. 

This is hardly the first time the New York Post, always eager for salacious scoops, has found itself with a reportorial black eye. To cite one recent example, in January the Murdoch-owned Manhattan tabloid was duped by a random Twitter user who claimed they had taken out a second mortgage on their parents' home to buy GameStop stocks. That also turned out to be false.

By Zachary Petrizzo

Zachary Petrizzo was an investigative reporter at Salon. Follow him on Twitter @ZTPetrizzo.

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Aggregation Conservative Media Immigration Kamala Harris Media New York Post Rupert Murdoch