The moment quickly went viral and sparked a barrage of criticism against Univision for a reporter openly praising Harris and disclosing her political affiliation.
But as Univision quickly revealed, Reyes was not a reporter and has no affiliations with the Spanish-language network. “Let it be clear to everyone that Ms. Maria Fernanda Reyes is not part of this media organization,” tweeted Daniel Coronell, president of Univision Noticias.
In fact, Reyes is a 36-year-old entrepreneur based in California. So how did she end up face-to-face with the vice president at a news conference?
A spokesperson for Harris told The Washington Post that she had “misrepresented herself to the Vice President’s staff as part of Univision’s crew, which was properly credentialed for the event.”
But Reyes denies that. In fact, she said, the incident was an epic misunderstanding driven by a series of bizarre coincidences: a difficult-to-navigate hotel, a camera dropped on her head and several miscommunications.
“They went after me without the facts,” Reyes told The Post of critics who said she deliberately posed as a journalist. “They automatically assumed that I went into that meeting as an impostor, and that’s not the case. It was an error.”
In a statement shared with The Post early Thursday, a Univision spokesman called the incident a “misunderstanding” on the part of both Reyes and the event organizers.
“During the news conference, they invited her to ask a question and incorrectly introduced her as a member of Univision,” said Jose Zamora, Univision’s senior vice president of strategic communications. “Both Maria Fernanda and the person that introduced her improperly failed to make the necessary clarification, which led to the confusion and misunderstanding.”
A Harris spokesperson told The Post that she underwent “the same level of security screening” as others at the news conference “and was never a security threat to the VP.” The White House did not detail why Reyes was admitted to a news conference that was reserved for credentialed press.
Reyes, an entrepreneur, farmer and the founder of Adopt a Hero, a foundation that supports front-line workers and farmers on both sides of the border, said she had traveled to the hotel in Mexico’s capital as a member of the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative to help coordinate this year’s Women Economic Forum. Before the news conference, she said, some members of the Women Economic Forum privately met with Harris.
On Tuesday, Reyes had just wrapped up an interview with a Univision news crew about her work when she offered to walk the crew members to Harris’s news conference. They were having trouble navigating the hotel’s elevator system to get there on time, she said.
But just as she was about to leave them at the room, Reyes said, one of them accidentally dropped a camera from his tripod, hitting her on her head. Harris staffers then invited her into the room to sit and drink water.
Before she could leave, she said, staffers announced Harris was about to walk in and Reyes was stuck until the end of the conference. She said she wore a badge identifying herself as a member of the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative the entire time.
Before the vice president arrived, two Harris staffers asked if she wanted to ask a question, she said. Reyes claims she again identified herself as a member of the Stanford group and told staffers that she wasn’t feeling well enough to ask anything. But when pressed again, she said, she assented and her name was jotted into a small notebook. Reyes said she did not know the event was only for journalists and assumed anyone there could ask Harris a question.
While Reyes sat one seat away from the Univision crew, she says she never identified herself as a reporter with the network.
After Harris arrived, reporters were called on one by one. When the event organizer called on her, Reyes says she was too overwhelmed by the moment to notice that they identified her as a Univision reporter. “I only heard my name,” she told The Post.
So Reyes stood, praised Harris and then asked, “What would you say to these women, those mothers and also women of color on both sides of the border, farmers, many of them [whom] I see every day, as a message of hope, but also what will you do for them in the next coming years?”
It wasn’t until a Univision reporter confronted her after the event — as Twitter was blowing up with condemnations of the network over her admission that she’d voted for Harris — that she realized what had happened, she said. Reyes said she explained the error to a Harris aide along with the Univision reporter. The White House staffers thanked her for clarifying the mistake and said they’d correct the event’s transcript.
Hours later, she said, “It all exploded.” Many outlets reported that a woman had sneaked into the journalists-only event to ask Harris a question and publicly praise her.
On Wednesday, Reyes appeared on Univision’s “Despierta América,” where she apologized to the network and its reporters for the incident.
But Reyes said she stands by her question and claimed that it brought needed perspective from the farmers and the Indigenous communities she regularly visits.
“When I was given the chance, which I didn’t ask for, I felt like I could give them a voice in the room,” Reyes told The Post. “Why would I want to be associated as an Univision reporter, and what do I gain? Nothing. I’m very proud of what I represent.”