What a shame that the people who will profit most from the tempest that was the White House Correspondents’ Dinner are the two who deserve it least: Michelle Wolf and Donald Trump.
Pundits, myself included, dissected the event with such gusto that folks outside the Beltway are likely fed up. But stick with me here, because this is a case where the whole of this mess is more important than the sum of its parts.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, I called Wolf’s performance a “Saturday Night Massacre of dignity and common sense.” My research shows that Wolf is the only entertainer in the WHCD’s 97-year history to use the f-word, and she used it three times, a dubious distinction. The issue is propriety not prudishness.
Beyond concluding that Wolf was foul and unfunny, I am most concerned that her act gives Trump ammunition to use against Democrats and media - perhaps all the way to 2020. He didn’t waste time, tweeting that the show was a “big, boring bust”; there will undoubtedly be harsher things to come.
If you believe that most Washington-based journalists are anti-Trump and secretly wish that he will fail and/or be driven out of office, then I suppose you might subscribe to the notion that Wolf was hired to advance that cause. I don’t see it that way, but I’m troubled that the head of the Correspondents’ Association, Bloomberg’s Margaret Talev, chose not to screen Wolf’s material in advance.
Talev explained later that, “It’s a night about free speech” - which is true, but quite beside the point.
Many liberals can’t bring themselves to criticize anyone who takes shots at Trump and his administration, even if the remarks cross the lines for both fairness and humor. Jonathan Capehart, for example, praised Wolf in the Washington Post under the headline: “Shut up about Michelle Wolf if you’ve been silent on Trump’s offenses.”
Rob Reiner, the actor and producer, attended the WHCD, then wrote that because Trump “has so poisoned the atmosphere” in remarks about the disabled, Mexicans, Muslims and others, “the rule of law that a comedian who simply tells the truth is offensive?”
No, not at all. Wolf wasn’t telling the truth, she was making lame jokes.
Conflating atrocities in governance with bad standup comedy is a mistake. And the notion that one side’s bad behavior gives the other side license to be worse is why American political discourse is spiraling out of control.
Meanwhile, Netflix execs and Wolf’s managers must be drowning themselves in champagne. Whatever size audience the previously little-known Wolf would have drawn for her upcoming series, the number has now quadrupled.
Trump played it perfectly by boycotting the event and allowing the WHCA to make him a victim. And Wolf will be laughing all the way to the bank.
What a shame that those who will lose the most from the Correspondents’ Dinner are the journalists who face enormous challenges in covering Trump, and voters who have come to realize that this president is no laughing matter.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker.