True greatness would require the cancellation of this repulsive elitist spectacle but eliminating the annual “clapter” feature in which Republicans and Democrats and Republicans and Republicans and Republicans are flayed for the enjoyment of like-minded journalists is a good start.
Now the event can be a pure expression of its true purpose, letting media people congratulate themselves on how important their jobs are.
Stern words will be spoken about Trump’s “enemy of the people” blather, fewer about his predecessor’s habit of spying on journalists to sniff out leaks. Why not let a comedian handle that? WHCA President Olivier Knox spoke to CNN about it this past spring, after the grousing about Michelle Wolf’s set at the last dinner:
Historically, Knox said, “when the president comes, the program’s center of gravity naturally tilts toward the president.” After he speaks and ribs the press corps, the featured comedian serves as the counter-balance.
With the president absent — and holding a counter-programming rally — the dinner has a different feel.
Wolf’s performance has become an object for partisan warfare, with conservatives claiming it proves the press corps’ hatred of Trump. The president himself tweeted on Monday that the dinner was “embarrassing” and the event is “dead” — indicating he won’t be attending next year either.
The core problem is that neither side wants to “rib” the other, they want to wound. I can’t even imagine what a Trump speech at the WHCD dinner would look like; you could write a thousand light-hearted jokes for him and after five minutes he would start rambling in earnest about his many grievances against the press. And no comedian with any sort of cultural cachet, i.e. no comedian under the age of 70, could show up at the WHCD and do anything less than savage Trump if they valued their career, particularly if Trump made the mistake of attending and was seated right there. Colbert’s turn at the WHCD a decade ago established that precedent; when you get a chance to slash a Republican president in a big spot, you take it. If you don’t, your mostly liberal fans will question your guts or your devotion to the cause, or both.
Which is to say, you can’t have a night of “good-natured” comedy between the two sides when good nature doesn’t exist on either side towards the other. It’s high time to acknowledge that. Inviting in Chernow to speak seriously about the First Amendment is obviously preferable to maintaining a toxic charade.
Exit question: Now that Jim Acosta is a First Amendment cause celebre for the stupidest of reasons, will the WHCA make the mistake of acknowledging him somehow at the dinner? If I were staging an event devoted to celebrating the virtues of a free press, I’d probably shy away from further elevating a guy who’s convinced lots of Trump fans that the highest purpose of journalism is grandstanding.
— Michelle Wolf (@michelleisawolf) November 19, 2018
Chernow’s an eminent historian and his First Amendment speech will obviously be aimed at Trump, explicitly or implicitly, but because the topic is about something larger than just slashing the guy and his supporters, it’s a sellout somehow.