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Pete Buttigieg’s campaign deleted a photo of a black woman and child from a section of its website devoted to the Democratic presidential candidate’s plan to address racial inequality.
The problem – as first reported by The Ryan Grim of Intercept – was that the image was a stock photo of a woman in Kenya who apparently had nothing to do with the campaign.
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But Fox News has learned that the photo mix-up was far from an isolated case for the mayor of South Bend, Ind., campaign for the White House. His website has used other stock footage of black individuals apparently unaffiliated with the campaign, specifically to promote “the Douglass plan,” which is presented as an investment in “empowering black America.” .
While campaigns have long used generic stills and clips in ads and elsewhere, they sometimes do so at their own risk. And for Buttiegieg — who has risen to high profile status in recent weeks, particularly in Iowa, but still struggles with black voters who make up about a fifth of the primary electorate — the dust in the photos of archives is a sensitive area for the campaign. It comes as he launches a new effort to woo black voters with a series of events surrounding Wednesday’s Democratic presidential primary debate in Atlanta.
Senator Kamala Harris of California, a rival for the Democratic nomination and one of many black candidates in the 2020 race, called it a “big mistake”.
Speaking at a campaign event in Nevada on Monday, she said: “He’s going to have to answer for this. … Let’s be clear, the Democratic nominee has to be someone who has experience connecting with whatever we are. , like the diversity of the American people.”
Buttigieg’s proposal – dubbed the Douglass Plan after abolitionist and activist Frederick Douglass – was rolled out in July. The plan calls for changes to national health, education and criminal justice systems to tackle institutional racism.
The Buttigieg campaign told Fox News that the photo of Kenya “was removed from our website page promoting the Douglass plan months ago as part of a regular update. However, we know that we owe an explanation of how it was used to begin with. The use of stock photos is standard practice in many campaigns.”
“The stock photo in question, which is widely used on the internet, was originally selected while a contractor operated our site, and the website from which it was extracted made no indication that the stock photo had been taken in Kenya. As our campaign has grown, we have integrated all of our web development in-house to avoid such errors. We apologize for its use and the confusion it has created,” Sean Savett added. , director of rapid response communications for the Buttigieg campaign.
Although the campaign mostly removed the image of the woman kneeling next to a child – replacing it with an image featuring Buttigieg – it still appears on a separate active page on the website. In addition, several additional minority stock images were used by the campaign, including at least one that remained on the main Douglass Plan site until Monday afternoon, when Fox News first reported it. .
The Douglass plan page featured a photo of a black female student sitting on steps, with text that read, “America must create an education system that trains and empowers the next generation of scientists, artists, writers , university professors, black lawyers. , tech entrepreneurs, doctors, software engineers, police officers, teachers and more. Yet today, too many children of color are being denied educational justice.
According to stock photography site Pexels, the photo of the student is from stock photography site “Nappy,” which offers “beautiful high-resolution photos of black and brown people. For free.”
The campaign deleted the photo on Monday to “eliminate any confusion”, after being notified by Fox News.
Another file photo, showing a black child running through a sprinkler, was captioned “Freedom.” The photo was originally posted on Unsplash.com and posted on August 22, 2016. This photo is no longer on the website.
The Douglass Plan section was not the only one to present archival photos of minorities. The candidate’s climate plan for Latino and Black communities featured an uncaptioned photo of a Hurricane Katrina survivor. According to Getty Images, the black-and-white photo was taken on Oct. 1, 2005, of a Pearlington, Mississippi resident who helped an elderly neighbor escape rising water. (This photo remains on an active webpage affiliated with the campaign, along with the Kenya photo that was removed from the main Douglass Plan page.)
The photo of the woman in Kenya went viral over the weekend, sparking widespread criticism on social media that there is a disconnect between Buttigieg’s campaign and minority voters. Grim tweeted that the woman in Nicholas Githiri’s photo contacted him “very confused”. He said the campaign grabbed the photo from a stock photo service and the subject “did not intend to pose for a stock photo, but agreed to be photographed.”
High-level Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota – who is a Somali-born refugee – criticized Buttigieg for the photo misstep. “This is neither correct nor necessary,” she tweeted.
As Buttigieg’s poll numbers soar in Iowa and New Hampshire — the two majority-white states kicking off the presidential nomination calendar — polls indicate the candidate is struggling to connect with black voters. In South Carolina, where the majority of likely Democratic voters in the presidential primary are African American, a new Quinnipiac University poll released Monday found Buttigieg at less than 1% among black voters.
This isn’t Buttigieg’s first direct error when it comes to black voters.
The campaign is still dealing with the cleanup after unveiling a long list of some 400 South Carolina Democrats who backed the Douglass plan. But some of those listed later reportedly said they supported other candidates in the race for the Democratic nomination.
And last month, the campaign removed as co-host from a fundraiser Buttigieg, a Chicago lawyer who pushed to block the airing of a video showing police shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
McDonald was killed in 2014 by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. Court-ordered video showed McDonald walking away from police when he was killed, rather than charging them as the offices claimed.
“Pete’s campaign is a high profile and disciplined campaign; but everything he does from now on is under a microscope, and with that comes more pressure on him and his team,” veteran Democratic strategist Michael Ceraso said.
“He’ll have to be close to perfect by the Iowa caucus to keep the media from writing negative stories about his perceived inability to appeal to Latino and African American voters. He’s got to show he can both win early in the Democratic primary schedule and resonate in various communities ahead of Nevada and South Carolina to convert voters who are poised to vote for him,” said Ceraso, New Hampshire State Director for Buttigieg. before going their separate ways this summer.
“Pete’s team doesn’t have time to react to unforced errors that will prevent his campaign team from doing so,” he added.
But longtime Democratic consultant Bill Burton — national press secretary for Barack Obama’s landmark 2008 campaign who later helped lead the pro-Obama Priorities USA super PAC — said “this distraction is small.”
“I’ve been on the offer and receive side of these types of attacks and they rarely have an impact,” Burton said.
Fox News’ Tara Prindiville contributed to this report.