WASHINGTON — Were they booing the president? Or were they “Youuuk-ing” him?
In a sensitive campaign season where every headline matters, it depends on who is doing the construuu-ing.
Let’s start with President Barack Obama, who was working for votes on Monday in Boston, the home territory of Republican rival Mitt Romney.
As he was just getting warmed up in a campaign speech, Obama uncorked something of a wild pitch.
He jokingly thanked the city for trading Kevin Youkilis — a gritty, beloved, core player for the Boston Red Sox for years — to Obama’s hometown Chicago White Sox this week.
The crowd began booing, in a loud but seemingly good-natured, defend-our-team kind of way.
“I’m just saying,” a smiling Obama told the audience at Symphony Hall. “I didn’t think I’d get any boos out of here. I guess I should not have brought up baseball. My mistake.”
When Obama ended the riff by conceding, “You’ve got to know your crowd,” he was rewarded with some laughter.
Someone helped him recover by shouting from the crowd, “We still love you!”
Not so fast, according to Romney’s camp.
In a daily email blast to reporters on Tuesday, Romney press secretary Andrea Saul led off by accusing Obama of having taunted Red Sox fans. She lumped it in with some of the most gut-wrenching setbacks in Red Sox history.
“Maybe the president should have congratulated the team for winning the World Series in 2004 and 2007,” she wrote. “Instead, he chose to mock them for trading away one of its favorite players at a time when the team is struggling.”
(Actually, the team has a winning record and has won seven of its last 10 games.)
Lest a negative story go unchallenged, enter Jay Carney, the White House press secretary and a big Red Sox fan.
Unprompted, Carney told reporters traveling with the president that there had been some “really silly reporting” about the episode.
He commended his boss for refusing to cater to Red Sox Nation and gently chided those who couldn’t tell a diss of the president from the calling of a player’s nickname.
“Anyone who knows Boston, and anyone who was in that room last night knows that the preponderance of people shouting in response to what the president said about Kevin Youkilis were saying ‘Yoooouk’ and not ‘Booo’ for God’s sake,” Carney said.
As the debate moved to Twitter, the White House was not letting go.
Let’s have some clarity, Carney tweeted: “Some booed. Others, like me, cried ‘Yoooouk!’ in sad memoriam.”
White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer couldn’t resist taking a shot at the media about the whole incident. He said the general reaction from the press was to depict the moment as a gaffe for Obama when in fact, he said, the president stood by his team — the White Sox — and refused to pander to the home crowd. “True sports fans understand loyalty,” Pfeiffer tweeted.