Stephen Colbert insulted George W. Bush’s intelligence in 2006. Joel McHale mocked Nancy Pelosi’s face in 2014. Conan O’Brien called Pat Buchanan racist in 1995. Cecily Strong suggested Joe Biden is a groper in 2015.
Jokes at the annual White House correspondents’ dinner have often been edgy, cutting and personal, but Michelle Wolf’s comedy routine on Saturday has triggered uncommon regret among journalists. Margaret Talev, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, went so far as to tell fellow reporters that she and incoming president Olivier Knox “are committed to hearing from members on your views on the format of the dinner going forward” — an indication that the traditional roast of Washington political figures could be scrapped in the future.
Humor is subjective, so it is impossible to say definitively whether Wolf was harsher than her predecessors. What’s clear, however, is that the current occupant of the White House is more inclined than his predecessors to weaponize any remarks that might effectively cast the media as hostile and biased.
So far, President Trump has tweeted that the dinner — which he skipped for the second straight year — was an “embarrassment to everyone associated with it” and a representation of “FAKE NEWS.”