Things got a bit surreal at the White House after a reporter asked Kate Bedingfield, the White House Communications Director, to comment on "the biggest story right now," referring to actor Will Smith's response to a joke made by presenter Chris Rock during Sunday night's Academy Awards telecast.
The reporter, Simon Ateba of Today News Africa, asked for a comment on "the level of violence that was unleashed" by Smith, who assaulted Rock on camera in what appeared to be a move to defend his wife, the actress Jada Pinkett Smith, following a crass joke from the comedian about his wife's baldness.
Why Ateba thought to ask about the incident at the Academy Awards–which had nothing to do with American politics–and not about the Biden administration's response to Russia's ongoing war with Ukraine or, perhaps, the news that phone logs turned over to the House Select Committee tasked with investigating the January 6 insurrection show a 7-hour gap in former President Donald Trump’s calls, remains a mystery.
You can watch what happened in the video below.
In addition to asking the White House to comment on the incident, Ateba inquired whether the White House would "do anything to support comedians" like Rock "who have been attacked," though he did not cite any sources for that claim:
"You saw the level of violence that was unleashed on Chris Rock. Is that something that the White House condones — that type of violence?
"Do you condemn it? And do you do anything to support comedians who have been attacked and other artists?"
Bedingfield, who is filling in for White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre after they both tested positive for COVID-19, did not lose composure, simply stating that she does not "have any official comment from the White House on the altercation."
She also noted that President Joe Biden had not watched the Academy Awards broadcast:
"I know the president was not able to watch the Oscars — didn't see it. So I don't have anything. I don't have any official comment from him or from the White House on this."
She was forced to reiterate that the White House does not have an official comment on the matter after Ateba once again asked if the "violence" at the Academy Awards "is something that you condemn."
Video of the exchange soon went viral, exposing Ateba to ridicule online.
Smith has faced heavy criticism following his assault of Rock, who has declined to press charges. Video of the incident, which many stunned viewers initially believed had been scripted, has been viewed millions of times.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has condemned Smith's actions and announced it will conduct a formal review of the matter "in accordance with our Bylaws, Standards of Conduct and California law.”
It remains to be seen whether the controversy will cost Smith the Academy Award for Best Actor that he won for his starring role in King Richard.