Is it time to end the annual tradition of the White House Correspondents Dinner? That question is certainly being asked after Saturday night’s disastrous performance by comedienne Michelle Wolf, cheered on by journalists and guests in the audience. My bigger question is this – what is wrong with the organization? Represented by White House Correspondents Association President Margaret Talev, the buck stops with her. Talev is a White House correspondent for Bloomberg News and a contributor on CNN.
I hold both Talev and Wolf responsible for this year’s train wreck. I may even hold Talev more responsible because her decision to hire Wolf set the train down the tracks. Why in the world did Talev hire Wolf in the first place? Is the talent pool so shallow that she was the best available? I admit I had not heard of her. She’s young at 32 years of age but she has an interesting resume. She has worked in the financial sector with Bear-Stearns and JPMorgan Chase. From there she went into comedy. Her comedy is vicious, though, and not in the viciously funny kind of way. She’s just mean-spirited and vulgar. I think Talev liked her and wanted this.
I’ve watched this annual gathering on C-SPAN for many years. I used to look forward to tuning in and hearing the jokes. I remember back in the Clinton days laughing along with everyone (except Bill and Hillary) during Don Imus’ comic takedown of Bill Clinton. It was scandalous back in the day but it kept a humorous tone. The hired entertainer always bothers those who support the president in office. Singe but don’t burn is the tradition. Suddenly in the age of Trump, all bets are off and liberals justify hideous personal attacks on conservative women as a-ok. Because of Trump. Seriously?
Trump haters loved her schtick. Some journalists and lots of Republicans, though, were less than impressed.
Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels’s attorney, said he thought Wolf was “really funny.” And Rob Reiner, a guest of McClatchy, said he sensed in the room that it wasn’t going over well but that he believed “she spoke the truth.”
Traditionally, this event is rough on the sitting administration but not vicious. And, what is up with the personal focus on the women of the Trump administration? As Jazz wrote about so well earlier of the event, the personal attacks on White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders were ugly. Wolf attacked her personal appearance and called her the “Uncle Tom” of white women, lumping her in with Ann Coulter. And of course, liberal women’s obsession with the dystopian world of “The Handmaid’s Tale” had to be included. That world is how they now see Trump’s America. Here’s a sample:
“I have to say I’m a little star-struck. I love you as Aunt Lydia in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ Mike Pence, if you haven’t seen it, you would love it.”
“And I’m never really sure what to call Sarah Huckabee Sanders, you know? Is it Sarah Sanders, is it Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is it Cousin Huckabee, is it Auntie Huckabee Sanders? What’s Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women? Oh, I know. Aunt Coulter.”
Lies, lies, lies. Michelle Wolf wanted to be sure the audience heard that word over and over as she spoke about the press secretary and also about Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the president. She even wished her physical harm.
“She has the perfect last name for what she does, Conway … You guys have got to stop putting Kellyanne on your shows. All she does is lie. If you don’t give her a platform, she has nowhere to lie. It’s like that old saying, if a tree falls in the woods, how do we get Kellyanne under that tree? I’m not suggesting she gets hurt. Just stuck. Stuck under a tree.”
So, something I noticed about the organization’s president, Margaret Talov, was her own political opinions seeping through her remarks. Remember the good old days when journalists tried to keep their opinions to themselves? Yeah, those days are long gone. After eight years of treating President Barack Obama as a rock star, it’s open season on this administration. Talov even referred to Hillary Clinton as the president. She quoted “the president” by referring to her “It takes a village.” quote.
This may end up being the best line of the night from the White House Correspondent’s Dinner: “As our President always says, it takes a village.” -Margaret Talev, President of the WHCA 💙 #Hillary #StillWithHer #MadamePresident #WHCD #MichelleWolf #MSNBC
— Lisa Sartin (@LisaSartin) April 29, 2018
Talov commented that she hadn’t seen Wolf’s act before seeing it on television. Then she watched another performance by Wolf and decided she had to hire her. Did she vet her at all? A quick Google search would have told the tale, as even Wolf herself said after she dropped the F-bomb during her bit. An explanation of her choice comes in this interview with Variety:
I liked the idea of someone who is not known as a political comedian, someone who is known more as a cultural comedian. Her brand traditionally has not been American politics. Many of her jokes are about the differences between men and women, but as you might have noticed, 2017 was a pretty important year to raise awareness and questions about the standing of American women in society, and in the media as well as politics and Wall Street and entertainment. I think she is an interesting person, too. She had all of these other careers before she fell into comedy.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders rose above and didn’t give Wolf the satisfaction of a reaction. Afterward, I watched as Talov hugged Sanders and rubbed her back as though comforting her. It was deplorable.
As long as the journalists in this association think this is acceptable behavior in an annual event that is supposed to honor journalists for doing their job and raising money for scholarships, nothing will change. The problem not mentioned much is that journalists working in red states now have to deal with the fall-out. The country is bigger than the Washington, D.C. bubble and regular America already doesn’t think too highly of the press. That is their own fault, not Trump’s. He just points out the obvious. I’d like to think a course correction can be made and let this event go back to one that both sides of the aisle can tolerate but there is no indication that will happen. This annual event allowing journalists to pat themselves on the back and hang with politicians and celebrities for an evening (the very people on whom journalists are supposed to report) just may implode all on its own.