A single light-hearted exchange between Vice President Kamala Harris and Polish President Andrzej Duda was elevated to the level of international scandal thanks to the efforts of shameless right-wing provocateur, Turning Point USA’s Benny Johnson.
On March 10, Vice President Harris and President Duda headlined high-level meetings between the United States and Poland as the two NATO allies negotiated the best responses to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of neighboring Ukraine. Among other things, the summit was meant to iron out a misunderstanding earlier this week regarding Poland’s interest in transferring fighter jets to the Ukrainian Air Force. During their meeting and the lengthy press conference that followed, the two leaders committed to bolstering Poland’s air defense systems, Harris pledged more than $50 million in humanitarian relief to Poland for managing the wave of refugees, and both discussed the possibility of war crimes investigations into Russian military tactics. Duda praised the level of international solidarity coalescing in the face of Russian aggression and called for the imposition of even further sanctions on the Russian economy, while Harris re-iterated America’s “ironclad” commitment to the mutual defense of NATO allies.
News reports from reliable outlets like CNN, NPR, PBS, and The New York Times characterized the meeting as substantive and having presented a united front. Even FoxNews.com’s initial report on the meeting focused on the substance. No scandal or intrigue derailed negotiations. Furthermore, there was virtually no mention of a light-hearted exchange between Harris and Duda, in response to a question from NPR correspondent Asma Khalid about whether or not they had discussed the U.S. accepting more refugees — uncertain of who should respond first, Duda offered to handle the question as Harris harkened back to his opening remarks, saying “a friend in need is a friend indeed,” before the two laughed and then answered the question.
At least, that was the story until failed conservative journalist and serial plagiarist Benny Johnson, who has rebranded as a Trump-obsessed knock-off Tucker Carlson, promoted a deceptively edited clip of Harris that cast her as unserious and out of touch:
Normally, Benny Johnson’s antics are unworthy of a response, but yesterday his absurd framing of the talks was picked up by former Ukrainian presidential spokesperson Iuliia Mendel and suddenly elevated to the status of international incident. Mendel, whose country is being torn apart by the Russian military, retweeted (and summarily deleted) Johnson’s misleading video clip, adding “It would be a tragedy if this woman won the presidency,” while the right-wing media echochamber spun into action to turn those few seconds from Harris into the defining feature of her trip.
- The Daily Caller was quick to use Mendel’s criticism of Harris as an excuse to pivot into dredging up Mendel's involvement in other reporting about then-Vice President Biden’s encouragement that Ukrainian authorities remove a corrupt prosecutor, which right-wing media have imagined into a scandal involving his son Hunter.
- The British tabloid The Daily Mail wrote of the supposed incident that Harris had faced “a slew of backlash for laughing off questions about the refugee crisis,” adding “The vice president's now commonplace laughter at inappropriate moments with world leaders was met with widespread criticism.”
- FoxNews.com, which had already published one hit piece promoting right-wing critics of Harris’ remarks, wasted no time in re-upping their attack: “Harris was ripped by critics following the exchange, accusing her of looking to Duda for help answering the question and slamming her for laughing amid the suffering of Ukrainians at the hands of the Russian military.”
- A New York Post write-up of the supposed scandal mischaracterized Harris' behavior as “inappropriate laughter” and rounded up complaints from right-wing misinformers criticizing the vice president, including disgraced and indicted former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos who called Harris “deranged.”
- The Washington Free Beacon, a right-wing opposition research firm masquerading as a news outlet, promoted Mendel as having “blasted” the vice president for “smiling and laughing after a journalist asked a question about Ukrainian refugees,” before ominously noting the tweet had been “deleted... for unknown reasons.”
- The Washington Times also joined in the fray: “It is not the first time Ms. Harris has been criticized for laughing at an inappropriate moment. In August, she interrupted reporters asking about the botched withdrawal of Afghanistan by saying ‘Hold on, hold on — slow down everyone,’ before cackling.”
This isn’t the first time Harris has faced backlash from bad faith right-wing personalities for her normal behavior, with much of the criticism barely even disguising its racist and misogynistic intent. In fact, less than two weeks ago, she was subjected to another spate of attacks stemming from a deceptively edited viral video. In just the past few weeks, right-wing media personalities have blamed Harris herself for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, suggested she doesn’t have the “range of experience” necessary to do her job, and even said that the sound of her voice or laugh could drive one to suicide.