A CNN anchor is being lashed out by netizens for allegedly making a “racist” remark against Indian-American national spelling champion Ananya Vinay, assuming that the 12-year-old is “used to using” Sanskrit due to her heritage. California resident Vinay was being interviewed by CNN anchors Alisyn Camerota and Chris Cuomo following her win last week at the prestigious Scripps National Spelling Bee. The sixth-grader had correctly spelled the word ‘marocain’ and became the 13th consecutive winner from the Indian-American community at the annual spelling bee championship.
Towards the end of the interview, Camerota asked Vinay to spell ‘covfefe’, the word recently used by President Donald Trump in one of his tweets that took the social media by storm with people guessing what the US leader could have meant by that word. Like a true spelling bee participant, Vinay asked the definition of ‘covfefe’ and its language of origin, to which the anchors responded “gibberish.”Vinay, sincerely tried to guess the spelling of the word, asked if there were any alternate pronunciation for it. She finally spelled it ‘cofefe’.
Camerota then told Vinay the correct spelling was ‘covfefe’ and added, “It’s a nonsense word. So, we’re not sure that its root is actually in Sanskrit, which is what you’re probably, uh, used to using, so, I don’t know. Anyway.” Criticism of Camerota’s comment has since been circulating on social media.
Cuomo immediately congratulated Vinay for doing a great job, saying, “You know what I love about this. Not only did you make yourself proud and your family, but do you know that there are kids all over the country, probably the world, who are going to look at you and say, “I want to put in that work. I want to be a champion. I want to spell like her.” However, netizens were quick to criticise Camerota for assuming that Vinay would know Sanskrit, some calling her comment racist and others expressing disbelief that she would make such an assumption just because Vinay is of Indian-origin heritage.
Susan Benesch wrote on Twitter, “CNN guesses the US national spelling bee winner is ‘used to using’ Sanskrit. If she were Jewish would u say ‘your real language is Hebrew’.” Another user Jeremy McLellan, a standup comedian, wrote on Twitter “12-year-old Ananya Vinay won the National Spelling Bee so naturally CNN had her on to spell ‘covfefe’ and say some racist stuff to her.” Asha Dahya, creator/editor-in-chief of female empowerment blog ‘GirlTalkHQ’, wrote on Twitter, “CNN anchor assumes spelling bee champ, who happens to be of Indian descent, uses Sanskrit to find the origin of a word.”
A CNN spokeswoman, in a report in the Washington Post, said Camoreta’s comment had nothing to do with the girl’s heritage, and that the interview was not the first time the anchor has joked about Sanskrit being the origin of ‘covfefe’. “Alisyn made the same joking reference to the root of ‘covfefe’ in an earlier panel discussion that was aired on Wednesday,” the CNN spokeswoman said. “If she’s guilty of anything it is recycling a joke. To assign a bias to what was a fun and innocent segment celebrating Ananya Vinay’s incredible accomplishment is frankly extremely cynical,” she said in a statement.