Journalist under fire for comment about ‘sophisticated, vaccinated crowd’ notes that she was relaying thoughts of others and not stating her own opinion
New York Times White House correspondent Annie Karni has argued that some of her comments have been taken out of context after conservatives accused her of giving former President Barack Obama a free pass over Covid-19 worries at his 60th birthday party.
The reporter was slammed on Twitter for saying the event was attended by a “sophisticated, vaccinated crowd” but was quick to note that she was asked by CNN’s Jim Acosta what people on Martha’s Vineyard were thinking about the event and not to state her own opinion.
“Watch the full clip. The [question] was, what do people on the island think of the party? The [answer] was me summarising [the] views of [people] I spoke with: some are upset … others think the concerns about it are overblown. ‘Sophisticated crowd’ was from a quote in the story,” she tweeted.
A short clip of Ms Karni that didn’t include the question quickly spread on social media, garnering millions of views prompting Twitter users to criticise her for her choice of words.
“Well, first of all, to be clear, this party is outdoors,” she said. “All the guests had to submit negative Covid tests to a Covid coordinator and were encouraged to be vaccinated.
“They were not required to be vaccinated. But most of this crowd is assumed to be vaccinated. So they are following all CDC precautions.”
She said she was told “mixed things” by people she spoke to on the island about the presidential gathering.
“There were people who were legitimately upset that there was going to be hundreds of people travelling from across the country, showing up on the island, a small community of summer residents who are nervous about getting together at all.”
“Other people said, you know, this is really being overblown,” she added. “They’re following all the safety precautions. People are going to sporting events that are bigger than this. This is going to be safe. This is a sophisticated, vaccinated crowd.”
“And this is just about optics. It’s not about safety,” she concluded.
“[An] NYT reporter on CNN justifying Obama’s huge maskless birthday bash because he only invited ‘a sophisticated, vaccinated crowd’ is about as emblematic of liberal discourse as it gets. What happened to all the concerns about vaccinated people passing Delta to the unvaccinated?” reporter Glenn Greenwald tweeted in response to the short clip.
“Yes, it’s a pandemic and a crisis, but let the sophisticated people have their fun!” he added.
“Oh that explains it. As long as you are rich and sophisticated, you are safe from Covid. All the rest of us lower-level citizens must practice social distancing,” Twitter user Lain C wrote.
“I guess from now on, the virus will be asking if you’ve read War and Peace before it infects you. If you are sophisticated enough to have read it, you’ll get a pass,” Mehdi Farbod tweeted.
Ms Karni told CNN that “the party has gone through a few phases” and initially had a “475-person guest list”.
“It looked really over the top given the moment we’re in with the Delta variant surging, with the White House trying to send a message that people need to get vaccinated and take extra precautions again,” she said.
By Wednesday, Mr Obama was being told by aides that they “should significantly scale this back”, but many thought this was too late because some guests were already en route to the island for the party.
“There was kind of a two-tier system,” Ms Karni said.
“A lot of the celebrities kept their invites. And a lot of the former administration officials who really credit themselves with helping the former president having built this legacy that allows him to fit in so comfortably with the A-list stars were cut.”
She added during the Saturday interview that there are some “hard feelings and some disappointment” that it turned out that way.
“When they say they scaled it back to be family and close friends – it’s not a 12-person gathering. It looks like it could be a few hundred,” she said on Saturday before the party kicked off.
She added that some Democrats “think just the optics of this in this moment with the message the White House is trying to send is off, is not helpful to progressives or to Democrats to be watching this glitzy party unfold”.