Vice President Kamala Harris felt “belittled” and “wounded” by the cover photo of her that Vogue selected for its February 2021 issue and dispatched a top aide to complain to Anna Wintour, a forthcoming book reportedly says.
Politico’s West Wing Playbook newsletter on Tuesday published excerpts of “This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America’s Future” by the New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, set to be released in May, that detailed Harris’ reaction to the controversial Vogue cover.
The image, shot by the photographer Tyler Mitchell, featured Harris casually dressed in a Donald Deal pantsuit and Converse sneakers in front of a background with draped green and pink fabric, in a nod to Harris’ college sorority.
But when the image was published online in January 2021, it reportedly caught Harris’ team off guard and garnered criticism. Some of Harris’ allies and other critics charged that the choice to feature Harris dressed more casually failed to give her the respect and gravitas that she deserved, and that the lighting and background portrayed the vice president-elect unflatteringly.
“Harris was wounded,” Martin and Burns wrote, according to Politico. “She felt belittled by the magazine, asking aides: Would Vogue depict another world leader this way?”
Harris’ top spokeswoman at the time, Symone Sanders, now an MSNBC host, went directly to Wintour, Vogue’s editorial director and editor-in-chief, to relay Harris’ displeasure with the image, the book says, adding that Wintour told Sanders she’d selected the photo herself and thought it made Harris more “relatable.”
A Vogue spokesperson said in a statement at the time: “The team at Vogue loved the images Tyler Mitchell shot and felt the more informal image captured Vice President-elect Harris’s authentic, approachable nature — which we feel is one of the hallmarks of the Biden/Harris administration.”
But amid the mounting criticism, the magazine picked a different image of Harris — showing the vice president more formally dressed, in a powder-blue pantsuit, with a simpler gold background — as the cover photo for the digital issue and a limited-edition print issue to commemorate the inauguration.
The Vogue incident also reportedly exacerbated tensions between Harris’ office and the West Wing — a major theme of the book.
When Harris’ chief of staff, Tina Flournoy, caught wind of the uproar over the cover image, she raised the issue to a senior Biden campaign official, the book says, according to Politico. But with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging and the nation reeling from the insurrection, the official “told Flournoy that this was not the time to be going to war with Vogue over a comparatively trivial aesthetic issue.”
“Tina, the adviser said, these are first-world problems,” the authors recounted, according to Politico.
A representative for Vogue did not return Insider’s request for comment.
In other excerpts of the book published by Politico, the authors reported that Harris felt disrespected by White House aides not standing when she walked into a room as they did for the president. Flournoy is said to have taken the issue up with Anita Dunn, a senior White House advisor.
The authors reportedly reveal more details about Harris’ dissatisfaction and frustrations with the portfolio of issues she was assigned to handle, including voting rights, immigration, and the US’s relations with the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
Harris, they wrote, was “resigned to the assignment” of the Northern Triangle nations and “did not hesitate to chide Biden” for portraying her as “border czar.”