A Massachusetts state senator who is running for Congress hoodwinked a Fox News show Monday, a move her campaign portrayed as taking advantage of an “error” by the network to grab the attention of President Trump, a known fan of the channel.
But the show’s executive producer said the press contact for Barbara L’Italien’s campaign — as well as L’Italien herself — used deception to get on the air.
Before being cut off abruptly, L’Italien appeared Monday via satellite alongside “Fox and Friends First” hosts Jillian Mele and Rob Schmitt, who thought they were interviewing Ann Kirkpatrick — a Democratic congressional candidate from Arizona they believed would express support for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Schmitt and Mele kicked off the live interview by asking L’Italien — believing she was Kirkpatrick: “Why you do support ICE?”
Instead of answering the question, L’Italien used the platform to deliver a message to Trump.
“Good morning, I’m actually here to speak directly to Donald Trump. I feel that what’s happening at the border is wrong,” said L’Italien, who is running for the Third Congressional District seat in the House of Representatives. “I believe that separating kids from their parents is illegal and inhumane.”
L’Italien went on to identify herself, making it clear that the hosts weren’t speaking to Kirkpatrick, before continuing her message.
“I keep thinking about what we are putting parents through, imagining how terrifying that must be for those families, imagining how it would feel not knowing if I’d ever see my kids again,” L’Italien said, referencing Trump’s policy of separating migrant children from their families at the Mexican border.
As L’Italien continued, she was interrupted by the hosts, who still seemed to think they were speaking to Kirkpatrick.
“OK, but that practice has stopped at this point, Ms. Kirkpatrick,” Schmitt said, a look of confusion on his face. “Right?”
“Kids have been reunited with their families,” Mele added.
L’Italien identified herself a second time while speaking over the hosts, before Schmitt asked, “Who is this? Who is this?”
Amid the confusion, L’Italien was cut off from the live feed and disappeared from the split-screen.
“That didn’t go as planned,” Schmitt conceded.
“That’s what happens sometimes,” Mele agreed. “Time for a break?”
A short time after the morning segment, L’Italien’s campaign offered its side of the story. Joe Katz, a spokesman for L’Italien’s campaign, said in a statement that a Fox News representative called him on his cellphone Sunday to set up an interview with Kirkpatrick.
Katz said he had last worked for Kirkpatrick in 2010, and had “no idea why they would have contacted me.”
“She has had at least two spokespeople since then,” he said.
But Katz never corrected the Fox News representative about the mix-up, and he booked the appearance anyway.
“Fox News is where you go when you want to talk to Donald Trump,” Katz said, “and Barbara felt she had an obligation to her constituents to take advantage of that opportunity.”
Desiree Dunne, executive producer of “Fox & Friends First,” said Katz deliberately misled the station.
In a statement, Dunne said Katz was the press contact they had on file for Kirkpatrick, and that he accepted the invitation on her behalf. Katz followed up with an e-mail to confirm the segment that “included background information and a campaign logo for Kirkpatrick,” Dunne said.
Fox did not respond to a request for a copy of that e-mail.
Dunne added that “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.”
L’Italien’s campaign blamed Fox News for what transpired, calling it an “error” on the station’s part.
Asked whether he had deceived the show, Katz said “we showed the exact same commitment to truth, fairness, and accuracy that Fox News always has.”
L’Italien, who is vying to succeed retiring Representative Niki Tsongas in the Third District, which encompasses 37 cities and towns northwest of Boston, tweeted out a video and statement after appearing on the show, a message she said she would have delivered on television “if I hadn’t been cut off.”
She also sent out an appeal for donations to her campaign to “Help me fight back against attacks from the conservative right since my appeal to @realDonaldTrump this morning on @foxandfriends.”
L’Italien didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, Kirkpatrick, the guest Fox thought they had scheduled, distanced herself from the episode, posting on Twitter that she is opposed to Trump’s immigration policies.
“This morning, Fox News and other outlets put out false reports on my position on ICE, without a single word from me,” she said.
Globe correspondent Matt Stout contributed to this report. Steve Annear can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.