White House spokesman Josh Earnest
White House spokesman Josh Earnest Reuters

White House spokesman John Earnest struggled Tuesday to explain US President Barack Obama's comments during a recent interview, in which the president said the threat of terrorism was being overstated by the media, and described the Islamist terror attack on a kosher supermarket as "a bunch of folks" being "randomly" shot.

Questioned by journalists at a press conference, Earnest admitted that in Obama's view climate change was indeed a greater threat than terrorism.

In a somewhat rambling statement, Earnest said the threat to Americans on US soil from groups like Al Qaeda is "much different than it used to be" today, although he acknowledged there was still a danger posed by terror groups such as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

But he insisted that "more people are effected by" climate change and "diseases" than terrorism "on a daily basis".

His insistence in repeating that position eventually led one journalist to ask: "Do you think a Jordanian pilot being burned alive is just the media hyping something?"

Earnest had more difficulty still in explaining Obama's comments concerning the murder of four Jewish shoppers at a kosher supermarket in Paris by Muslim terrorist Amedy Coulibaly last month.

In the Vox interview, published Monday, the US president appeared to totally ignore the obvious anti-Semitic motives of the Islamist killer, describing the attack as "random."

"My first job is to protect the American people. It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you've got a bunch of violent vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris," he said, as part of his comments on terrorism.

"I mean, this was not a random shooting of a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris, this was an attack on a kosher deli. Does the president have any doubt that those terrorists attacked that deli because there would be Jews in that deli?" one journalist challenged, sparking the following exchange:

Earnest: "The adverb the President chose [i.e. "random"] was used to indicate that the individuals who were killed in that terrible, tragic incident were killed not because of who they were but because of where they randomly happened to be."

Journalist: "They weren't killed because they were in a Jewish deli though? They were in a kosher deli?"

Earnest: "These individuals were not targeted by name, this is the point."

Journalist: "Not by name, but by religion, were they not?"

Earnest: "Well John... there were people other than Jews who were in that deli..."

The White House spokesman's desperate attempts to justify his boss's statements have been widely mocked on social media.


The Obama administration has been dogged by claims it has systematically sought to downplay the danger of Muslim terrorism, with one prime example being the 2009 Fort Hood shooting massacre by a Palestinian Muslim US Army psychiatrist who had business cards reading "Soldier of Allah."

It was reported at the time that the term Islam was completely missing from the FBI report on the shooting, which classified the attack as a case of "workplace violence." That despite the fact that the terrorist shouted "Allahu akbar" (Allah is greater) during the attack and later admitted to having exchanged e-mails with leading Al Qaeda terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki.