After Michelle Wolf’s biting comedy routine at the White House Correspondents Dinner on April 28, many people emerged from the aftermath confused, angry, regretful, and seemingly lacking spines. The routine by Wolf, where she criticized not only those on the right, but those on the left and those in the news industry as well, really seemed to stun everyone. It seems as though when she decided to take on republicans, democrats, and journalists instead of just the republicans, who typically play the comedic punching bag these days, the response from journalists was less than enthused. But obviously they couldn’t say they disliked the part where she made fun of the media, that would look too biased, so they came up with another solution after the roast.
Maggie Haberman, the White House correspondent for the New York Times was one of the more immediate responders to the routine, tweeting, “That @PressSec sat and absorbed intense criticism of her physical appearance, her job performance, and so forth, instead of walking out, on national television, was impressive.” My first issue with this tweet is that Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was not made fun of for her looks, not at all. But I will get to that later. My other issue with the tweet, and the responses from many journalists and media pundits, is the impression that a person, at an event where comedians are regularly hired to make fun of people, shouldn’t be made fun of.
A common criticism about the left and journalists is that they are wimpy and humorless, and this response from the media to the Correspondents’ Dinner has done everything, and then some, to prove those criticisms 100 percent correct. The idea that the media at any point needs to defend anyone from criticism is both hilarious, wrong, and hilariously wrong. An event that claims to celebrate the press and the First Amendment in the political center of the United States, should be the last place where anybody, let alone journalists, should feel the need to shut down someone for the content of their speech. That sets a dangerous anti-free speech tone in Washington D.C., where, not even two miles away, the President of the United States of America considered jailing journalists, and regularly criticizes any and all news outlets that shows news that might be damaging to him, regardless of factual accuracy.
Oh, it also is where the Department of Homeland Security is working to compile a database of journalists (presumably for completely separate reasons from that “imprisoning journalists” deal).
A sentiment Wolf shared in her set might explain why the media feels like it’s necessary to vehemently defend those in the government from the jokes by the meanie comedy lady, “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.” She said, referring to the constant barrage of Trump coverage that permeates throughout nearly every commercial news report nowadays. Wolf continued, “You helped create this monster, and now you’re profiting off of him.”
The second problem I have with the response to the dinner is that, despite the fact that there was no criticism whatsoever of Sanders’ physical appearance in Wolf’s performance, the media and the right seem insistent that she was mocked horribly for things like her facial features, weight, and sexual orientation. The infamous joke in question; “I actually really like Sarah. I think she’s very resourceful. She burns facts, and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.” Is saying someone has perfect makeup an insult? Maggie Haberman has been insistent that Sanders got taken down for her looks in this joke, insisting in replies to her initial tweet that Sanders was mocked for her appearance.
Many other personalities criticized the joke.
MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski tweeted “Watching a wife and mother be humiliated on national television for her looks is deplorable.” adding that Sanders “deserved an apology” from the White House Correspondents’ Association. Republican Strategist Liz Mair claimed on an appearance on MSNBC that Sanders was called a “fat lesbian” even though nothing even close to such insults were made. “It’s extremely hypocritical that we’re hearing from somebody of the left, [these] sort of lesbian, fat lesbian jokes when supposedly we’re not even supposed to be making those.” Said Mair, seemingly implying that her problem wasn’t with the content per se, but with the fact that she herself couldn’t make fun of people for their appearance.
It is, however, pretty telling that these people who are trying to act as if they are in the moral right, are absolutely certain that Sanders was made fun of for her looks. “I think people have a lot of preconceived notions about Sarah’s looks and I think a lot of what’s happening is they’re projecting onto this joke.” Wolf said in an interview with Terry Gross on the NPR show “Fresh Air”.
After all of this though, there is one sentiment from Mika Brzezinski about the dinner that I do agree with, “If you didn’t want this to be a win for Trump, you gave him one in a big way.” And she’s right, with the reaction she, Maggie Haberman, and everyone else from the Washington Post to the Associated Press gave to the dinner, we have given him every reason to believe that the media has bent their knee to the White House, and will do what the White House desires when push comes to shove. It is way easier to imprison journalists when they willingly put the shackles on themselves.