The Washington, D.C., news corps spent Sunday proving comedian Michelle Wolf right. Some of the most over-the-top pearl clutching and hand-wringing didn’t come from the White House, but from D.C. correspondents quick to throw Wolf under the bus.
For what? To ingratiate themselves with a press secretary to hates them and lies to them? To defend an administration that has been the most dangerous foe to a free press?
And, on the same day reporters kept busy condeming Wolf, BuzzFeed News reported that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has removed an entire section of the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual that urges “careful weight” to the “constitutional requirements” of a free press.
This administration has taken the Lee Atwater/Roger Ailes soundtrack undermining the media and cranked it up to 11. Those two Nixon cronies began feeding the public consipiracy theories that the media was too biased or untrustworthy since the 1970s. It all led to Ailes’ Fox News Channel, which has done more to undermine journalism — and as a result, democracy — than perhaps any other entity in history.
Spoiler alert: It worked. And led to the election of Donald Trump, a man who used to desperately court media attention (even wining and dining Hollywood trade reporters in an attempt to get an Emmy nomination) but now enjoys the power to be openly hostile toward them.
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But here’s the truth about much of the media: It’s more often guilty of laziness, not bias. They spent hours Sunday dissecting Michelle Wolf — a comedian most of them probably had never heard of, despite her stints on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” and “Late Night with Seth Meyers” — rather than the real, recent threats to the free press.
The White House Correspondents Association should know this. Hours before the dinner, the group Tweeted that its “First Amendment banner is up.” And yes, it’s a noble gesture, and the group’s work in promoting a free press is important.
How distressing, then, that the WHCA fell so quickly in line behind the White House and its defenders in condemning Wolf’s speech. They knew what they were getting. This isn’t even the first time a White House Correspondents Dinner host ruffled feathers.
Wolf opened her speech with “a reminder to everyone, I’m here to make jokes. I have no agenda. I’m not trying to get anything accomplished.”
It wasn’t Wolf’s job to do anything but a biting, comedic set. Which she did. What’s really disturbing is how White House defenders, including several reporters, are latching on to a joke Wolf made about press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ lies. But they’re twisting it to make it sound like Wolf was condemning her looks.
“I actually really like Sarah,” Wolf said “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.”
From that, we got this faux outrage from the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman: “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.”
No, but here’s what’s not impressive: Putting up with the lies and hostility from @PressSec and her boss, day after day, and not walking out.
How about this, from Mika Brzezinski, who pointed out that she has been attacked in the past by the President with sexist, offensive remarks about her appearance, yet somehow thinks the administration is now the victim: “Watching a wife and mother be humiliated on national television for her looks is deplorable.”
Again, this was not about looks, it was about lies. And you’ve just trivialized the abuse that Trump administers every day of his life.
Ultimately, this is about the fact that Wolf came to town and called out everyone — including the media for being complicit in the rise of Trump’s attack on American insitutions, civility and democracy. The autocrats in power don’t like to be called on their actions, or for audiences to laugh at their lies.
While the media spent Sunday hand-wringing over its own dinner entertainment, it ignored some of the evening’s most troubling aspects: Specifically, Trump’s counterprogramming rally, in which he managed to get an arena full of sycophants to boo the entire Latino ethnicity. Shouldn’t that have dominated headlines Sunday?
However, the media can’t stand it when they’ve been played. Said Wolf: “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 of him. “
Wolf exposed everyone in the room, and that’s why they’re rushing to condemn her. The ruse is up. Stop pretending to be offended when really you’re embarrassed. Embarrassed that we got to this point. Embarrassed that the media has allowed Trump to completely steal the narrative and run them down.
And embarrassed that they can’t share the truth, but a comedian can. Hosts like John Oliver and Trevor Noah don’t like being called journalists, and perhaps that’s a good thing. As too many Washington reporters shirk their duties, it’s the comedians who are speaking truth to power — and they’re not afraid to ruffle feathers in their quest to expose the obvious.
“I have comedian friends who’ve done #WHCD,” MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell tweeted. “Many writer friends who’ve written WHCD jokes. I always advised them precisely on the line they shouldn’t cross. I respected the line. They did too but still they made mistakes. Then Trump destroyed the line. THERE IS NO LINE.”
After two years of Trump not showing up to the event, here’s one thing everyone can agree on: The White House Correspondents Dinner isn’t working. And it’s been an embarrassment for a while. Its goals, in promoting a free and vibrant press, are admirable. So why even try to accommodate administration members who seek to destroy the media? Stop giving them ammunition by televising the dinner and trying to make it something it shouldn’t be.