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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

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Well, Good For Michelle Wolf, Anyway

Things are happening at warp speed these days, and maybe you’ve already moved on from comedian Michelle Wolf’s performance at last weekend’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.

Alas, I haven’t. Not just yet.

The annual dinner is that one night of the year when Washington journalists try to act as if it were perfectly normal to parade around in senior prom attire while making jolly with politicians. These are the same politicians in Congress and the White House whom they are supposed to be scrutinizing with the red-hot heat of a Black & Decker steam iron tackling taffeta. It’s never been a good visual.

I’m hardly the only journalist who has long called for an end to this charade of ethical compromise. As James Poniewozik reported, for example, The New York Times has not attended this dinner for a decade. It’s wonderful that the White House Correspondents’ Association awards annual scholarships for young reporters, but virtually nobody talks about that. And in these times, this hours-long spectacle reinforces everything the president tells people they should hate about us.

Presidents have traditionally attended this dinner, but for the second year in a row, Donald Trump has boycotted it and held a campaign rally instead. This year, he was in Michigan, where he bragged about his crowd numbers and presidential victory, yet again, claimed that Democrats colluded with Russians, and said that if he doesn’t get funding for his border wall, he’ll “close down the country.”

He also accused journalists of making up sources and “hating your guts.” This is not true, but it gets to why this year’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner was a bad idea.

To address the most common post-dinner retorts from many of my fellow liberals:

1) Yes, Lenny Bruce was a trailblazer of a comedian, with his foulmouthed self. He died in 1966.

2) Yes, Donald Trump has repeatedly stooped to this level of behavior. If I want a mirror held up to Trump — never, thanks — I can watch Fox so-called News Channel.

3) No, I’m not wearing pearls, so I can’t possibly be clutching them. That sort of thing ended decades ago anyway. (See Lenny Bruce, above.)

My objection to Wolf’s performance has nothing to do with her and everything to do with who invited her.

We now have a president who loves to work up crowds into mobs chanting their attacks on journalists and who calls us “the enemy of the American people.” It’d be nice if we could avoid fueling this rage and growing the number of people who hate us.

Wolf is a comedian, but that night she was the face of journalism. If you don’t think that’s true, please be a journalist trying to do your job anywhere but Washington, D.C.

I get that covering the White House has never been tougher. There’s a reason for your bubble of in-the-trenches camaraderie — but you do know the rest of us can see you, right? As one of my students asked after we viewed Wolf’s entire performance in ethics class: “Did they not think that what happened at that dinner would affect local journalists?”

I have a recent story that might help illustrate what she means. Last month, I was at the Cleveland Indians’ home opener, roaming the stadium to talk to fans about their affection for Chief Wahoo, the racist mascot that the team is phasing out, sort of.

I’ve been working as a journalist in Cleveland for nearly 40 years. I’ve interviewed countless fans in the past about Wahoo. For the first time in my career, one person after another responded to my request for an interview with the same accusation: “You’re fake media.”

They were aggressive.

They were angry.

They were a lot like Trump.

I wish only the best for Michelle Wolf. She’s a female comedian owning center stage. That’s almost as rare as Americans’ trust in our journalism.

How hilarious is that?

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

 

No, Mr. President, The Roast Must Go On

Only Donald Trump could manage to justify the continued existence of the White House Correspondents Association dinner, a springtime ritual of journalistic self-indulgence that might just as well have ended years ago. By declaring the dinner “DEAD”– after yet another humiliating comic takedown of him and his enablers – the president is testing his authoritarian impulse against American traditions of unfettered and even offensive speech.

For Trump to achieve such a victory over those who dare to mock him would inflict real and permanent damage on cultural freedom in this country.

With typical subtlety, his tweets revealed the enraged ego driving his demand to abolish the WHCA dinner. On Saturday night, as the event was ending, he jotted a telltale reference to a moment that left him stewing for seven years:

“The White House Correspondents’ Dinner was a failure last year but this year was an embarrassment to everyone associated with it. The filthy ‘comedian’ totally bombed (couldn’t even deliver her lines-much like the Seth Meyers weak performance). Put Dinner to rest, or start over!”

It was back in 2011 when Seth Meyers hosted the dinner, reciting a monologue that aimed several razor barbs at Trump, only moments after a smiling Barack Obama fired his own rips at the celebrity developer. Then in his “birther” phase, which was duly ridiculed by Obama, Trump sat stone-faced in the audience, and later whined that Meyers had been “too nasty.” He has boycotted the dinner ever since, and no doubt wants revenge.

Flash forward to that very same podium, where Michelle Wolf courageously called out Trump and the women who serve him. She certainly didn’t “bomb,” unless that means she delivered several tons of verbal ordnance that directly hit Kellyanne Conway, Ivanka Trump, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and the president himself (as well as Congressional Democrats, Republican leaders, and various mainstream media outlets).

She opened with a warning rimshot: “Like a porn star says when she’s about to have sex with a Trump, ‘Let’s get this over with.’”

Not all of Wolf’s lines were meant to kill like that first quip. After a string of “how broke is he?” jokes about Trump’s dubious billions  – he flies failed business class, he looked for foreign oil in Don Junior’s hair – she suddenly stepped out of character.

“How broke is he? He had to borrow money from the Russians, and now he’s compromised and susceptible to blackmail and possibly responsible for the collapse of the republic.” Over and over again, Wolf interrupted her own crackling performance to remind us that this brutish regime is no laughing matter.

Perhaps that insistence on discomfort, that refusal to normalize, is what provoked the negative response from both rightwing and mainstream journalists. It took shape as an upwelling of fake indignation over her alleged mistreatment of the White House press secretary. Within moments after the dinner ended, and ever since, a variety of critics criticized Wolf for supposedly sexist remarks about Sanders’ physical appearance.

To put it simply, Wolf said not one word that was critical of her looks. She joked about Sanders “burning facts” to create a “smokey” eyeshadow. She compared Sanders to Aunt Lydia, a villainous character in The Handmaid’s Tale who doesn’t resemble her physically but likewise stands for repression, deception, and misogyny. She called Sanders a liar, which is a fact, not a slur.

Evidently this was just too much truth to bear. So sympathetic to Sanders were the journalists who heard Wolf’s 90-second burn that they “swarmed” the press secretary during the after party. A New York Times correspondent publicly congratulated her for remaining in her seat for the entire ordeal. And MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski, who endured a little roughing up by Wolf too, said she felt sorry for Sanders as a “wife and mother.”

Responding to the outburst of righteous guff, the WHCA issued a pitiful apology to its members. In that statement, the organization’s president scolded Wolf for failing to reflect “a unifying message about our common commitment to a vigorous and free press while honoring civility, great reporting and scholarship winners, not to divide people…”

But do the leaders and members of the WHCA actually believe that the Trump White House shares its commitment to a vigorous and free press, civility, and great reporting? By this late date, the question answers itself. The media establishment’s craven abandonment of Wolf – who did exactly what she was hired to do – is a dire signal that Trump is winning his war on the press and the First Amendment.

With a witless thug in power, Washington badly needs this annual burlesque as an occasion of defiance – even if too many journalists lack the spirit to celebrate it. Yes, the WHCA dinner is a self-congratulatory spectacle that has outlasted its fading charm. But for freedom’s sake, the roast must go on.

IMAGE: Screenshot of Donald Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents Association dinner, listening to Seth Meyers and Barack Obama (and the audience) laughing at him. 

Washington Journalists Defend Sanders Against Sexist Insult That Nobody Uttered

Reprinted with permission from Shareblue.com.

Reporters who cover the Trump administration were instead defending it — and specifically press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders — Saturday night. But their efforts resulted in justified backlash.

At the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, comedian Michelle Wolf delivered a wide-ranging roast that included 90 seconds of material on Sanders.

The bit drew harsh criticism from ostensibly objective journalists, particularly a joke about Sanders’ penchant for dishonesty.

“I actually really like Sarah. I think she’s very resourceful,” Wolf said. “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.”

Wolf went on to muse about what to call Sanders. “Like, what’s Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women?” Wolf asked. “Oh, I know: Aunt Coulter.”

The jokes were relatively mild, but they still drew condemnation from a number of journalists.

Maggie Haberman of The New York Times praised Sanders for not walking out on the dinner. She accused Wolf of attacking Sanders’ physical appearance, when the joke was actually skewering her propensity for dishonesty. When asked on Twitter to quote the lines to which she was referring, Haberman didn’t answer and unfollowed the questioner.

Other prominent reporters and media figures joined Haberman in defending Sanders, which resulted in a blizzard of backlash, including from Wolf herself.

Michelle Wolf

@michelleisawolf

Hey mags! All these jokes were about her despicable behavior. Sounds like you have some thoughts about her looks though? 😘 https://twitter.com/maggienyt/status/990428993542414336 

Michelle Wolf

@michelleisawolf

Why are you guys making this about Sarah’s looks? I said she burns facts and uses the ash to create a *perfect* smoky eye. I complimented her eye makeup and her ingenuity of materials. https://twitter.com/morningmika/status/990585968825597954 

On Sunday morning’s “AM Joy,” panelist Tiffany Cross called out the media for this behavior.

“It’s a lot of unfairness to the American people when Sarah Huckabee Sanders stands at that podium every day and spits out lies,” Cross noted. And she made it quite clear where the disgust should be directed.

“If you were made to feel uncomfortable by Michelle Wolf making fun of the actual words that the president had said, and actual things that people in this administration have done but you weren’t uncomfortable by the president calling Nazis good people, you weren’t uncomfortable by the president talking about grabbing women by their private parts, you weren’t uncomfortable by the president putting our very democracy in danger, then you need to check your hypocrisy and your privilege.”

Sanders lies to the press with stunning regularity, and viciously attacks those reporters who do their jobs by calling her out and standing up to Trump.

Even as members of the media were defending her lies, Trump was a few hundred miles away accusing them of hating Americans.

Taking sides with this administration against a few harmless jokes is a very odd choice for reporters in the Trump era.