How NBC’s Lester Holt and other mainstream media outlets have adopted a Fox News talking point against VP Harris

Kamala Harris recently finished her first foreign trip as vice president, visiting Guatemala and Mexico in an effort to deal with the root causes of migration from Central America. But in covering Harris’ visit, some in mainstream media are adopting Fox News’ framing that conflates her diplomatic role in Central America with the network’s demand for Harris to visit the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Harris’ trip was part of her assignment in the Biden administration to help address core humanitarian issues of the economy, crime, and political corruption in Central America. She had previously announced a set of major corporate investments in the region, aimed at improving the quality of life to decrease the need for people to migrate northward. She and the rest of the administration have also stressed that this issue involves making progress over time, rather than holding a single event.

But unfortunately, mainstream media outlets are still falling for the dominant right-wing media framing on a number of immigration-related issues. The latest example has come from NBC News anchor Lester Holt’s interview with Harris during the trip, first broadcast on June 8, and his repeated questions about whether she would visit the U.S.-Mexico border — even as Harris had spoken repeatedly about her diplomatic role with the countries farther south.

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Citation From the June 8, 2021, edition of Fox News’ Today

LESTER HOLT (NBC NEWS ANCHOR): So how quickly does this change what we see at the border? 

KAMALA HARRIS (VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES): There's not going to be a quick fix. We are not going to see an immediate return — but we're going to see progress. The real work is going to take time to manifest itself. Will it be worth it? Yes. Will it take some time? Yes.

HOLT: Just to quickly put a button, do you have any plans to visit the border? 

HARRIS: I — at some point — we are going to the border. We've been to the border. So this whole thing about the border, we've been to the border. We've been to the border. 

HOLT: You haven't been to the border.

HARRIS: And I haven't been to Europe. I mean, I don’t understand the point that you're making. I am not discounting the importance of the border. 

The problem here is that Holt’s question itself was simply following up on a months-long campaign by Fox News, in which network figures have attempted to measure Harris’ success at her diplomatic role in Central America with whether she’s visited the southern border. 

The network has pushed similar narrative on its website as well, with language such as: “Kamala Harris has gone 77 days without visit to border since being tapped for crisis role,” “the vice president will be near the US-Canada border while Republicans continue to urge her to visit the US-Mexico border,” and “the vice president recently traveled to a Chicago bakery but has yet to visit the border.” 

And while Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy has tried to quiz the White House on a Harris border visit — that is, when he wasn’t peddling debunked conspiracy theories — the network has allowed guests to spread such claims as alleging she was given the assignment of migration issues “simply because she has brown skin.” And in response to the latest sound bite between Harris and Holt, Fox host Katie Pavlich claimed that Biden had only selected Harris to be vice president “based on gender and skin color.”

Some mainstream outlets are falling into the Fox News trap

Politico took the bait on Tuesday, covering the Republican attack on Harris as a story in itself to claim that Harris’ visit to Central America had “reignited tensions” over her visit to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Tuesday’s edition of CBS Evening News led with the Republican-led framing. “Vice President Kamala Harris just wrapped up a two-day trip to Guatemala and Mexico, focusing on the root issues of illegal immigration,” said anchor Norah O’Donnell. “But tonight, Harris is pushing back on criticism that she has yet to visit the southern border, as new video reminds us why the situation is so dire.”

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Citation From the June 8, 2021, edition of CBS Evening News

And Wednesday morning on CNN, White House correspondent John Harwood called out what he described as Harris’ “obvious discomfort with Lester's question, the nervous laughter there,” and added that Harris “eventually gave” the measured answer about her diplomatic role with the Northern Triangle countries during a press conference on Tuesday.

This statement is problematic on two fronts. Right-wing media commentators have engaged in sexist tropes about Harris’ voice and the sound of her laugh ever since the presidential campaign last year. Moreover, Harris had also spoken extensively about her diplomatic role throughout the interview with Holt, before he asked about a border visit, as she highlighted the humanitarian concerns going on in migrants’ home countries: “The reason I am here is to address those issues, knowing that the people who are here for generations, they want to stay, they don’t want to leave,” Harris said. “But they need opportunity, they need assistance, they need support.”

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Citation From the June 9, 2021, edition of CNN Newsroom with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto

But somebody else actually knows it’s a Fox News trap

Later, on CNN, the network’s global affairs analyst Max Boot called out the core problem with questions about Harris’ visit to the border -- that they present a political problem for Harris only because Fox News has set out to make it into one, and because Fox can more easily turn the vice president into a political target than the president.

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Citation From the June 9, 2021, edition of CNN’s At This Hour with Kate Bolduan