— Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), in a tweet linking to a report in the New York Post, April 25, 2021
“Harris’s children’s book Superheroes Are Everywhere is included in welcome packs for migrant children arriving at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, a recently converted influx facility, along with basic hygiene supplies and clothing, photographs show.”
— Reporting on Fox News, April 24, 2021
“Unaccompanied migrant kids brought from the U.S.-Mexico border to a new shelter in Long Beach, Calif., will be given a copy of her 2019 children’s book, ‘Superheroes are Everywhere,’ in their welcome kits.”
— Reporting in the New York Post, April 23, 2021
It’s like a bad game of telephone.
The New York Post reported that a children’s picture book written by Vice President Harris was being handed out in “welcome kits” to young migrants at a shelter in Long Beach, Calif.
Fox News, which is owned by the same family as the New York Post, then amplified the story with its own version of the article.
Cotton and McDaniel ran with these reports and posted critical tweets. But they should have dug deeper.
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.
Before she was vice president, Harris published a 40-page children’s book titled “Superheroes Are Everywhere” on Jan. 8, 2019. The story traces Harris’s life experiences and encourages kids to be good Samaritans. It was written for children ages 3 to 7 and illustrated by artist Mechal Renee Roe.
“Superheroes Are Everywhere” jumped to the top of the New York Times bestseller list for children’s books days after Harris, then a senator from California, announced her 2020 presidential campaign on Jan. 21, 2019.
Fast-forward to the present.
Faced with an influx of migrant children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border from Central America, the Biden administration has scrambled to set up facilities in which to house them.
Long Beach, a port city 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, last week began sheltering migrant children in its convention center. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for resettling minors who arrive alone in the United States, is funding the shelter. The goal is to find each child a home with family members or sponsors already in the country, but during the time it takes to locate a suitable guardian, minors who have recently arrived are housed in facilities such as this one.
The “emergency intake site” at the Long Beach Entertainment and Convention Center will be able to house up to 1,000 children and is designated for girls up to age 17 and boys up to age 12, according to HHS. Approximately 100 children arrived Friday. The convention center is scheduled to stop housing migrants and resume normal operations Aug. 2.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra has praised civic leaders and local officials, including Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia (D), for rolling out the welcome mat. The city recently established an online portal to help organize all the humanitarian aid being offered by residents.
“There’s been overwhelming interest from our community to welcome and support the migrant children who will be coming to our city,” said Garcia, an immigrant who arrived in the United States when he was 5 years old. “Long Beach will continue to demonstrate compassion to those in need, and our online portal will provide up-to-date information on ways community members can support these efforts.”
City officials said examples of aid that could be offered, contingent on approval by HHS, include food, meals or meal services; education, recreation, entertainment, family reunification, child supervision, legal and religious services; language translation, facility setup assistance and health care. Long Beach officials are also exploring ways to have volunteers pitch in, they said.
A photographer for the Southern California News Group visited the Long Beach shelter and snapped a photo of Harris’s book, which was propped up against a black backpack. The photo was then distributed by the Reuters news agency. (Correction: We previously said the photographer worked for Reuters, which only distributed the photo.)
The New York Post ran the photo on its front page (headline: “Kam On In”), along with a story falsely claiming, “Unaccompanied migrant kids brought from the U.S.-Mexico border to a new shelter in Long Beach, Calif., will be given a copy of her 2019 children’s book, ‘Superheroes are Everywhere,’ in their welcome kits.”
The New York Post article had no attribution for the claim that Harris’s book was being distributed in welcome kits. We repeatedly emailed the reporter, Laura Italiano, to ask how she arrived at that conclusion but received no response.
Fox News published a similar article the following day. The authors were Italiano and Fox News reporter Morgan Phillips. (Both Fox News and the New York Post are owned by the Murdoch family through Fox Corp. and News Corp., respectively.)
The Fox News article repeats the false claim that “Harris’ children’s book Superheroes Are Everywhere is included in welcome packs for migrant children arriving at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, a recently converted influx facility, along with basic hygiene supplies and clothing, photographs show.”
But at least this article has an attribution: “photographs show.”
Eagle-eyed observers, however, will notice that it’s the same photograph in each case. A lone copy of “Superheroes Are Everywhere” appears on a cot, propped up against a black backpack.
A spokesman for the city of Long Beach told The Fact Checker that a single copy of “Superheroes Are Everywhere” was donated by a member of the community.
“The City of Long Beach, in partnership with the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, has 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,” city spokesman Kevin Lee said. “The book you reference is one of hundreds of books that have already been donated. The book was not purchased by HHS or the City.”
The book-and-toy drive was well advertised. “Long Beach is known for being a welcoming community and the donations of new books will truly enhance the children’s stay,” Long Beach Public Library Director Glenda Williams said in a news report partly about the drive on April 23. Officials specifically asked for books from “grade levels kindergarten through young adult.”
“The books can be in English or Spanish — or both — and must be new,” ABC 7 reported, listing five hotels and a theater where they could be donated.
In response to our questions, the White House said the federal government was not purchasing or distributing Harris’s picture book.
“A citywide donation for books and toys was organized by the community to donate to children being housed at migrant facilities,” Harris spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said. “The Office of the Vice President was not aware that her children’s book was donated.”
A Republican National Committee spokesman said: “We’re not originating the claim; the White House and HHS didn’t deny this two days ago. The Fox report says the books are included in welcome packs for the kids. HHS says they run and staff the facility.”
The spokesman added: “We’re just going off those reports that the books are in welcome packs.”
A spokesman for Cotton said he based his comment on the New York Post’s reporting, which his tweet linked to, but otherwise did not comment.
We contacted News Corp.’s media relations team and the New York Post’s publicist and received no response.
Update (April 27, 1:37 p.m.): Hours after this fact-check was published, the New York Post removed the article about Harris’s book from its website without publishing a correction or retraction. A separate article by a different reporter now carries an “editor’s note” that reads: “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.” On Fox News, morning host Ainsley Earnhardt said: “According to The Washington Post this morning, they’re saying that it’s not accurate. ... They’re just saying that a book had been donated to a citywide drive. It’s not placed in these welcome bags.” However, the Fox News article claiming the book had been included in “welcome packs” remained online with no alterations.
Update (April 27, 3:17 p.m.): The New York Post restored the original article on its website, which now accurately says a single book was photographed on a cot. The same “editor’s note” (described above) appears at the bottom.
Update (April 27, 6:34 p.m.): In a series of tweets, Italiano announced her resignation from the New York Post. “The Kamala Harris story — an incorrect story I was ordered to write and which I failed to push back hard enough against — was my breaking point,” she wrote.
Update (April 27, 6:56 p.m.): Fox News removed Italiano’s byline from its article without explaining why. In yet another correction dubbed an “editor’s note,” the Fox News article now says at the bottom, “In a previous version of this story, it was implied there were multiple copies of Harris’ book available for children in welcome packs.” The editor’s note is misleading, as the network did not imply but state that multiple welcome packs containing Harris’s book were being supplied to migrant youths. Furthermore, the article itself now says “at least one” of Harris’s books was seen at the shelter, without offering any evidence whatsoever that there might be others.
Update (April 30): The New York Post issued a statement to reporters on April 29: “The New York Post does not order reporters to deliberately publish factually inaccurate information. In this case, the story was amended as soon as it came to the editors’ attention that it was inaccurate.” (We emailed our questions April 26.)
The Pinocchio Test
This is a good example of how misinformation spreads on right-wing media and gets amplified by Republican leaders.
The New York Post reported that Harris’s book was being included in “welcome kits” for migrant children arriving in Long Beach’s shelter. Fox News repeated the claim, attributing it to “photographs.”
Cotton and McDaniel ran with it, basing their own tweets on these reports. We always remind politicians that they are responsible for their words, so they should double-check their facts.
There is only one photograph. There was only one copy of Harris’s book. But everyone gets Four Pinocchios.
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