Can Everyone Please Calm Down About the White House Correspondents Dinner?
On Saturday, April 28th, 2018, the annual White House Correspondents Dinner took place. It was an evening of celebration of the First Amendment and the importance of journalism as a whole. Many speeches were made in praise of all the new and established reporters and people of the press. The night was a dignified and beautiful one.
That is until a certain speech was made. Daily Show comedian Michelle Wolf graced the dinner with her scathing and merciless monologue about the president, his administration, the Republican party along with the media as a whole.
Soon after, various news outlets covered the event and many Americans, including the President, went to Twitter to air their grievances. Depending on who you ask, the monologue was either “done well” or “a complete disgrace.” Some have even gone on to call it evil and proof of how hateful the left really is.
Other’s have praised Wolf for her barbs and criticized those who took offense to her jokes.
And the entire ordeal is quite perplexing. A comedian was hired to continue on a 35-year-old tradition of roasting the president and his administration. A comedian completed that job and for some reason everyone is upset. Well, let’s break down some of the misconceptions of the dinner and get to the bottom of all the hullabaloo.
“Michelle Wolf’s Comments Were Mean”
Before we tackle what Wolf said, let’s first understand the definition of a roast. As defined by Thought Co, a roast is
an event in which one particular guest is joked about and made fun of by his or her peers (or in this case a chosen comedian), usually in front of an audience. The roasters are typically assembled on a ‘dais’ — a raised platform or stage — where they remain for the length of the roast… Roasts are traditionally comprised of insult comedy and are known to be very vulgar
So based on this definition we can conclude that whatever “mean” things Wolf said about the president or his administration are, indeed, mean. We can also conclude that this is exactly what Wolf should have done in order for her to carry on the tradition and to do her job correctly. Granted, roasts in the past haven’t been near as “edgy” or forthcoming but that is the point of a roast.
Wolff made jokes about President Trump being broke. She made a joke that she was 20 years too old for Roy Moore. She made a joke about how Trump’s impeachment would mean Pence as president and she didn’t want that because he’s a “weird little dude.” All mean comments, sure, but that’s exactly the point. And she isn’t the only one to have made mean jokes at a president and his administration’s expense.
In 2015, Cecily Strong made several biting remarks about then President Obama and his administration. Some of them were about getting to sit on massage chairs on the Amtrak trains saying all you have to do is sit on Joe Biden. She said, “if anyone’s guilty of taking ISIS too lightly it’s-” while jutting her head in the direction of Obama. She also made a joke about Hilary Clinton taking money from Israel. Not only was there no outrage, she was lauded for her performance. Maybe with a little more finesse, but the action was the same.
“Michelle Wolf Made Fun of Sarah Huckabee-Sanders Looks”
For this point, I think it’s important to have on record what exactly was said about the White House Press Secretary. The particular remarks that have sparked outrage were the ones supposedly geared towards Huckabee’s looks. Her first being, “ Of course, we have Sarah Huckabee Sanders. We’re graced with Sarah’s presence tonight. I have to say I’m a little star-struck. I love you as Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale.” First off, Aunt Lydia looks like this.
She looks nothing like the Press Secretary for one. As ABC News put it, “In the book and show, Aunt Lydia is a character who is an enabler of a regime that treats women horribly…” With this context in mind, and with Wolf explaining the true intention of her joke on Twitter, I believe it’s safe to say Wolf was comparing Huckabee’s role as Press Secretary to that of Lydia’s: an enabler of an anti-woman establishment. This is especially apparent when Wolf made several comments about Trump and his dealings with women including his “grab ’em by the pussy” line as well as the Stormy Daniel’s deal.
Her second remark was, “ I actually really like Sarah. I think she’s very resourceful. Like, she burns facts, and then she uses the ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like, maybe she’s born with it; maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.”
Many on Twitter and even MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski tweeted about Wolf’s remarks with much disapproval. Though looking at the quote in full, the only thing Wolf said about looks was “perfect smoky eye.” Those outraged appear to have completely ignored the beginning and end of the joke. Wolf is not making fun of appearances. She’s calling the Press Secretary a liar. As Wolf puts it, “…I complimented her eye makeup and her ingenuity of materials.”
“The WHCD Helped Ruin The Image of Journalists to the Public”
Mistrust of the media has been prevalent for years. Possibly as long as print media has existed. President Trump and his relentless labeling of “fake news” have created a surge of distrust against news outlets with the exception of Fox News, Breitbart, and others of the like. However, according to journalist Meg Kinnard, the dinner also had a hand in that mistrust.
According to website, Editor and Publisher, the true intention of the dinner is to “acknowledge award-winners, present scholarships, and give the press and the president an evening of friendly appreciation.” During most of the dinner, this was accomplished. After watching the entire event, it’s clear that the entire dinner up until Wolf’s participation was actually a noble and honorable event. Based on this, it’s safe to assume Kinnard and others who mirrored her opinion are referring to Wolf’s set rather than the dinner as a whole.
Though most of Wolf’s comments were directed towards the administration, she did make one memorable comment about the media that seems to have hit a nerve.
You guys are obsessed with Trump. Did you used to date him? Because you pretend like you hate him, but I think you love him. I think what no one in this room wants to admit is that Trump has helped all of you. He couldn’t sell steaks or vodka or water or college or ties or Eric, but he has helped you.
He’s helped you sell your papers and your books and your TV. You helped create this monster, and now you’re profiting off him.
Media outlets need people to keep reading in order to keep them alive. Journalists are already struggling as it is with downsizing and increasing digital demands. As a result, they are tempted to gravitate towards articles that will make the most clicks as John Oliver stated in his journalism piece of Last Week Tonight.
Trump is and will continue to be a hot topic that does benefit reporters whether or not they want to admit it. The president himself has echoed this sentiment in the past claiming he’ll win in 2020 because of how he’s “good for business.” Though, of course, not all media is about Trump, his name can be found on the featured page of any major news media outlets. Aaron Blake of the Washington Post admits that Wolf is correct, “ I think plenty of reporters would acknowledge [Trump has helped them](and, in fact, do).” Talev also casually mentioned the past two years have been good for journalism as a business. So then if what Wolf and the President have said are true, how did she contribute to a divide what was already there? One that was not getting smaller to begin with?
If there’s anyone to be angry with or to blame for this particular dinner’s fiasco it’s president of the WHCA, Margaret Talev and every person who had a hand in the decision to bring Wolf. As Talev said in her introduction speech, she had not only seen Wolf’s stand up comedies, she found them amusing and had done research on her. That would mean she was familiar with Wolf’s public criticisms of not just the president but his family and his staff. And the WHCA still chose her. Wolf did what she was supposed to do. Being outraged about that is like getting angry at a fire for burning.
“President Trump Is Brilliant For Not Attending”
While scrolling through the gripes of many Trump supporters on Twitter I noticed an interesting and peculiar sentiment. People genuinely praised the president for deciding to skip the dinner attributing it to his brilliance and genius. Several Twitter users also cited Wolf’s speech as proof as to why he was correct in doing so.
For whatever reason, Trump instead held a campaign rally in Michigan. Not attending the dinner certainly makes a statement, one that is not lost on anyone. The question of whether or not the president should attend is a whole other discussion. But the question of why he doesn’t attend is quite apparent, especially in context.
During the 2011 WHCD, comedian Seth Meyers made digs at a stoic Trump along with then President Obama. Meyers commented on Trump’s hair, calling his run for presidency a “joke” and his relationships with “the blacks” which Meyers said, “unless that’s the name of a family of white people, I think he’s mistaken.” Then President Obama joked that since the “birther issue” was put to rest, Trump could now focus on important issues like who killed Tupac and Biggie.
During the 2016 WHCD, Obama also poked fun at Trump commenting on his experience meeting foreign leaders (Miss Sweden and Miss Argentina) and that he would be great at closing Guantanamo because he “knows a thing or two about running waterfront properties into the ground.”
Based on those two events alone and President Trump’s intolerance to any criticism that comes his way, it makes perfect sense why he would refuse to attend these dinners. There’s nothing genius about it. If anyone had to choose between getting roasted for the whole nation to see and going to a rally where they knew they’d be surrounded by people who adored them who wouldn’t pick the latter? With that being said, let’s stop calling it brilliant. It’s not.
“We Should Scrap The WHCD”
As previously mentioned, some are calling for the dinner to be “scrapped” and gotten rid of (presumably because of Wolf). Though these calls for decommissioning the dinner have been made before this one, it is undoubtedly because of the most recent comedians and their comments towards the president. I say this with confidence because no one seemed to have a problem when President Obama, President Bush or others were mocked during their dinners. The anger towards this dinner is misplaced. The dinner itself is not the problem and quite frankly neither is Michelle Wolf.
During last year’s dinner, Hasan Minaj made countless jokes about the President calling him an elephant, comparing him to Joffrey from Game of Thrones (which if you haven’t seen it, Joffrey is an evil, murderous monster), called him childish, and heavily implied his collusion with Russia. Outrage broke out for his performance as well. So it would appear the real “problem” is not the dinner but the roasting of this president.
And to that I say, you have a right to be angry. She made fun of a man you highly respect. However, to expect an entire dinner that has been established since 1914 to be “scrapped” because a certain part of the population doesn’t agree with 20 minutes of it is absurd. The dinners are a celebration of free speech, an honoring of hard-working journalists and an opportunity to, for one night, be on good terms.
In defense of Michelle Wolf, Hasan Minaj and other comedians who have attended these dinners and will attend in the future, they have to be asked to speak. They don’t just show up.
One Last Thing
In all honesty, I didn’t enjoy this year’s monologue. I can agree with critics that Wolf’s jokes were, at times, tasteless and, dare I say it, cringy. Her delivery, in my opinion, could have been better. Many of her jokes weren’t funny though I will admit she made me laugh a few times. I will even agree that she was harsh. However, she performed a job and performed it to the best of her abilities.
Anyone who has seen her on the Daily Show or any of her other performances knows what kind of comedian she is. The only difference is she performed in front of a mixed audience, many of whom have never seen her before. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been surprised.