LOWELL -- Fox News hosts thought they had a Monday morning segment lined up with a Democratic congressional candidate from Arizona who was booed at a recent forum for supporting ICE.
What they got instead was a Trump-bashing appearance from the 3rd Congressional District’s Barbara L’Italien.
The state senator was an apparently unexpected guest on “Fox & Friends First” Monday morning after producers reached out to Joe Katz, L’Italien’s communications director, thinking that he still worked for Arizona candidate Ann Kirkpatrick as he had years ago.
But Katz played along, a Fox official said, and responded with background information on Kirkpatrick and Kirkpatrick’s campaign logo. Producers did not realize the mix-up until L’Italien appeared on air by Skype and used the opportunity to criticize the Trump administration’s border policies.
The segment opened with video of a forum in Tucson, Arizona, last week as Democratic candidates were asked about ICE. Kirkpatrick was the lone person on stage to express her support for the agency.
“And joining us now, that candidate, the only Democrat on stage to support ICE, Ann Kirkpatrick,” Fox host Jillian Mele said. “Thank you for joining us, we appreciate it. Tell us why you do support ICE.”
“Good morning, I’m actually here to speak directly to Donald Trump,” L’Italien replied. “I feel that what’s happening at the border is wrong. I’m a mother of four, and I believe that separating kids from their parents is illegal and inhumane. I’m actually Barbara L’Italien, I’m a state senator representing a large immigrant community, I’m running for Congress in Massachusetts.”
L’Italien continued to slam the administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the border until the hosts began questioning the situation. Co-host Rob Schmitt -- mistakenly referring to L’Italien as “Ms. Kirkpatrick” -- said he believed the practice in question had stopped.
“We have to stop abducting children and ripping them from their parents’ arms, stop putting kids in cages, stop making 3-year-olds defend themselves in court,” continued L’Italien, ignoring attempts by Mele and Schmitt to ask whether the family separation policy had been stopped.
After a few seconds of crosstalk, L’Italien again identified herself. The segment cut her off in mid-sentence.
After Schmitt turned to his co-host and asked, “Who is this?” the feed was cut off and Schmitt said: “That didn’t go as planned.”
Mele apologized to viewers for the confusion a short time later, ending by saying it’s “time for a break.”
L’Italien was quick to promote her appearance, posting video of the exchange to her campaign’s YouTube channel and another video containing the full version of remarks she had prepared.
In an interview later Monday morning, L’Italien said she directed her remarks to Trump himself, who is a well-documented fan of Fox, because she “believe(s) this is the one show he watches faithfully.”
“I saw it as an opportunity to amplify concerns I have about children being taken from parents, children being placed in cages, children not being reunited,” L’Italien said.
The mix-up stemmed from a staffing overlap. Desiree Dunne, executive producer of “Fox & Friends First,” said in a statement that the show’s staff contacted Katz, who previously worked for Kirkpatrick and was still listed as her press contact in the network’s files.
Katz now works for L’Italien, however, but Dunne said he did not disclose that to Fox employees.
“This morning we invited Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick to appear on Fox & Friends First through her press contact on file Joe Katz, who accepted the invitation on Kirkpatrick’s behalf,” Dunne said. “Katz followed with an email confirming the segment, which also included background information and a campaign logo for Ann Kirkpatrick. During the actual segment, Barbara L’Italien, appeared on camera instead of Kirkpatrick. Despite speaking to producers prior to the interview, L’Italien did not identify herself as anything other than Kirkpatrick until she was live on air, at which point we ended the interview.”
L’Italien told The Sun that Katz did indeed work for Kirkpatrick “many years ago,” although she was unsure of specific dates. She said she felt her campaign’s behavior was appropriate.
“They reached out to us,” L’Italien said. “It was their lack of due diligence that enabled me to go on to the show. There was an opportunity there and I took it.”
Katz told the Associated Press that it was the network that should be blamed for the error.
“Fox News reached out to our staff believing they were reaching the Kirkpatrick office due to their own failure of due diligence,” he said. “Over the process of getting the interview scheduled, they repeatedly showed very little grasp on the facts, down to whether or not Ann Kirkpatrick was still in Congress.”
Katz added that L’Italien felt obligated to take advantage of the opportunity provided because, “Fox News is where you go when you want to talk to Donald Trump.”
Kirkpatrick served four terms in the U.S. before unsuccessfully challenging Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain in 2016. She is among Democrats vying for the seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Martha McSally.
On Twitter Monday, Kirkpatrick accused Fox of misrepresenting her position on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency during the introduction to the segment on which she was supposed to appear.
“I am disgusted by the Trump policies aimed at immigrant families,” she tweeted.
L’Italien’s message could help her stand out with voters who have nine other Democratic candidates in the race to consider, according to John Cluverius, a U.S. politics expert who teaches at UMass Lowell.
“Democratic voters are going to love this,” Cluverius said. “More than any single issue, voters like when politicians they support are hostile to people and institutions they don’t like. Sen. L’Italien targeted two things Democrats say over and over again that they stand against: President Trump and Fox News.”
Yet, Cluverius cautioned it may be too soon to tell whether L’Italien’s appearance on the network will ultimately affect the race’s outcome.
“The effects of media coverage are often temporary and a lot of undecided voters are not yet paying attention,” he said.
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