When Ananya Vinay hit the media circuit last week to talk about her win at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, no one could have guessed the Fresno 12-year-old would have to get through an odd, political and racially charged encounter on CNN.
In the video, which trended wildly Sunday, anchors Alisyn Camerota and Chris Cuomo began with the kind of questions one would expect to ask of a sixth-grader who just won a national honor.
Then the anchors pivoted, asking Vinay to spell “covfefe.”
While one wonders what kind of producer thought it would be a good idea to ask the 12-year old such a question, even for the laughs, it wasn’t the question itself that raised controversy, but Camerota’s response when Vinay couldn’t spell the word (likely because she doesn’t follow @realdonaldtrump and it’s gibberish).
“It’s a nonsense word,” Camerota said. “So we’re not sure that its root is actually in Sanskrit, which is what you’re probably, uh, used to using.”
Social media exploded with tweets calling out the anchor and the network for what many saw as cultural ignorance at best and, at worst, outright racism. News outlets like the Washington Post picked up the story, quoting a CNN spokewoman who said the comment “had nothing to do with the girl’s heritage.” It also wasn’t the first time Camerota had joked about Sanskrit being the origin of “covfefe,” the spokeswoman said.
For her part, Vinay seemed unaffected. She simply played along, smiling widely and asking for the word’s definition and country of origin.
Watch the full interview below.