The entrepreneur who touched off an Internet firestorm with a case of mistaken identity at Vice President Kamala Harris’ press conference this week is pushing against the White House’s claim she “misrepresented” herself as a journalist.
“They knew I wasn’t a reporter,” Maria Fernanda Reyes told Fox News on Friday.
Indeed, Reyes is not a reporter for Spanish-language Univision, but she found herself identified as one by Harris’ team and asking a question to Harris during a televised Tuesday news conference at a Mexico City hotel. Reyes, a newly naturalized U.S. citizen living in Napa, California, praised Harris, said she voted for her in the 2020 election, and then proceeded to ask her a question about helping farmers.
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What people didn’t know was Reyes had been mistaken for Maria Fernanda Lopez from the same network, and that she was only in the room for the conference because she had just been hit in the head by a Univision camera that left her with a concussion. She added she made it clear she was not a journalist, but rather with the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship, a research and education program, to help organize this year’s Women Economic Forum.
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Yet she said Harris’ advance team asked if she wanted to ask a question, and she assumed it was OK for non-journalists to participate.
So Reyes was puzzled Friday when the White House said she “misrepresented herself to the Vice President’s staff as part of Univision’s crew, which was properly credentialed for the event.” Lopez, the reporter she was mistaken for, was in Florida at the time.
Reyes told Fox News she was especially surprised at the White House’s characterization of her, given she is a Biden-Harris supporter.
“I would say they’re contradicting themselves,” Reyes said. “They’re saying I went through all the security checks and I never posed a risk, and yet they’re saying that I misrepresented myself. How could I do that when I never had a Univision pass? That’s the first thing they would have looked for, don’t you think?”
Reached for comment on Friday, a White House official reiterated the claim Reyes misrepresented herself as part of Univision’s crew, while noting she had passed security screenings and was never a threat to Harris.
Univision’s president Daniel Coronell promptly put out a statement Tuesday claiming Reyes had pretended to be a reporter with the outlet. Univision didn’t respond to a request for comment Friday.
“I got the chance, which I didn’t ask for, and I used it to represent the voices that were not represented in that room,” Reyes said. “What’s sad, and I want to emphasize this, is the fact that they automatically think a Latina, young woman cannot be there unless she’s an impostor, and that needs to change.”
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Reyes said she had accompanied the Univision crew, which had just interviewed her about her advocacy for farmers in Mexico and the United States, to the room of the conference because they were unfamiliar with the hotel. Then, she said, a Univision cameraman’s heavy camera fell and hit her so hard on the head that it broke at the door of the conference room.
She said Harris’ team offered her water and aid, and she was sat down next to Univision’s team to rest. Later, a Harris staffer asked if she wanted to ask a question, and despite saying she never identified herself as a reporter and showing her Stanford entrepreneur badge, her name was written down by Harris’ team.
“I don’t want to be [a reporter],” Reyes said. “I’m not. I was there with the Women Economic Forum … No offense, but I wouldn’t want to be associated with a profession that doesn’t represent who I am. I’m a farmer, and I represent many farmers across the world.”
The video shows Harris looking around for her questioner after Reyes was announced, because Reyes was so surprised to be called on, she didn’t immediately stand up. She said she didn’t register she’d been associated wrongly with Univision.
“My question is, what would you say to these women, those mothers and also women of color on both sides of the border, farmers, many of them who I see every day as a message of hope but also as–what will you do for them in the next coming years?” she asked.
After the conference, she and a Univision reporter showed the Harris staffer who originally asked if she wanted to get a question her Stanford badge again, who photographed it and said they would correct the official transcript.
Meanwhile, the Internet was on fire with critics of Univision, who thought one of its reporters had baldly revealed her bias when Reyes said she voted for Harris. Univision released the statement blasting Reyes as an impostor, and Reyes found her name being “trashed” and fielding questions from all over the world.
She wants the situation to settle down so she can return to her work.
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“I speak five languages … I started my own agricultural company and took it public, and suddenly to have all those years wiped out, to be called an impostor just because of somebody’s mistake, and I’m not blaming the White House,” she said. “I think Univision had a lot to do with it, too … I think it’s very unfair that they [did] that character assassination without the facts.”