fb-pixelJill Abramson had some salty words about the World Economic Forum — and other stand-out moments from Davos - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

Jill Abramson had some salty words about the World Economic Forum — and other stand-out moments from Davos

From left, the president of the World Economy Forum Borge Brende, Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia, Governor JB Pritzker of Illinois, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Representative Maria Elvira Salazar of Florida, and Representative Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey attended a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Tuesday.Markus Schreiber/Associated Press

The World Economic Forum’s annual gathering at Davos kicked off on Monday, and once again the snowy Swiss retreat has generated some criticism online.

While the list of high-profile attendees who traveled to the gathering see it as an important exchange of ideas on the global economy, environment, COVID-19, and the war in Ukraine, others don’t always quite agree.

The event is regularly targeted both by conspiracy theorists who say its members concoct nefarious schemes at the Alpine resort, and by critics who say its ultra-wealthy attendees are out of touch — or that it’s become little more than a junket for corporations, government officials, academics, and journalists.

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This year is no different, it seems.

From harsh words — including a notable dig by former New York Times editor Jill Abramson — to video clips shared widely among detractors, here are some moments that have stood out.

Abramson: ‘not impressed’

Abramson, who left the Times in 2014 and is now a distinguished professor of practice at Northeastern University’s school of journalism, offered the most (or, perhaps, least) quotable critique of the event and its cozy relationship with reporters.

In an email to former Buzzfeed News editor and Times columnist Ben Smith that was featured Wednesday on Smith’s news website Semafor, Abramson reportedly said Davos “was — and is, a corrupt circle-jerk.”

Abramson, Semafor reported, was disturbed to see how much coverage the WEF was receiving in the Times, much of which she dismissed as “sweetener to flatter the CEOs” who hobnob there and appear on its panels.

(In an email to the Globe, Abramson confirmed she sent the message to Smith privately, and stood by it. But she said she “might have used a few more polite words” had she known it would be widely shared.)

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‘Extra-terrestrial’ John Kerry

Former Massachusetts senator John Kerry, who is currently President Biden’s special envoy for climate, attracted attention from conservative news outlets Tuesday when video circulated online of him describing the collective power of the “select group of human beings” gathered at the conference.

Attendees, he said, “are able to sit in a room and come together and actually talk about saving the planet,” adding that it was “almost extra-terrestrial to think about, quote ‘saving the planet.’”

“If you said that to most people, most people they think you’re just a crazy tree-hugging, lefty-liberal — you know — do-gooder-whatever,” said Kerry, who spoke during a panel titled “Philanthropy: A Catalyst for Protecting Our Planet.”

Unsurprisingly, one of the furthest-reaching critiques of that portion of his speech was from “RNC Research,” a Twitter account linked to the Republican National Committee, which posted a clip of his appearance.

Musk’s non-invitation

Elon Musk, meanwhile, has been part of the discussion despite not being at the event. In December, he claimed that he’d turned down an invitation to the conference because he thought “it sounded boring af lol.” But a WEF spokesman said Tuesday that he hadn’t actually been invited, according to the Associated Press, which reported that the Tesla CEO and Twitter owner was last invited in 2015, and has never attended.

Musk has been throwing jabs at the event this week from the sidelines, including comparing the views expressed there to those found on the online message board 4chan. On Wednesday, he posted a poll asking followers whether “The World Economic Forum should control the world,” with two options: “Yes” or “No.”

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A Sinema-Manchin high-five

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who left the Democratic Party last year and registered as a political independent, were both seen as spoilers amid Democrats’ slim majority in the Senate, each generating their share of headlines this year.

So it was only natural that a high-five shared between the two of them while on stage at the glitzy retreat would attract some attention.

Manchin and Sinema slapped hands to celebrate their refusal to end the filibuster, a Senate policy that makes it difficult to pass legislation, and which critics say blunts progress.

Celebrating their stance in a room packed with some of the world’s wealthiest people made it a particularly unsavory move to their opponents — and despite lasting just a moment, it became one of the most discussed few seconds of the event thus far.


Spencer Buell can be reached at spencer.buell@globe.com. Follow him @SpencerBuell.