OPINION: White House Correspondents Dinner Leaves Bad Taste
The White House Correspondents Association was founded in 1914 and began holding an annual dinner in 1921. The President began attending in 1924 (when Calvin Coolidge was in office). Since then, while some dinners were canceled due to world events, the president attended each dinner, with the exception of President Ronald Reagan in 1981, who was recovering from gunshot wounds. President Donald Trump has chosen not to attend either of the two dinners during his term.
Since 1983, the featured speaker has been a comedian, and the comedian has generally roasted the current administration. It comes as no surprise given our political climate that this year’s performance was particularly scathing, and in the opinion of many, crossed the line for the occasion.
Comedian Michelle Wolf has written for "The Daily Show," is a successful stand-up comic and is the host of an upcoming talk show on Netflix called "The Break." Clearly, she has a substantial fan base and enough current events cred to land the gig.
In round numbers, a routine skewering Trump and his administration will get a thumbs up from 55 percent of Americans, thumbs down from 40 percent and 5 percent won’t know it happened, so the math was on her side. The problem was the venue.
Journalists are under threat on many fronts. Around the world, dedicated people are risking their lives to tell stories that need to be told. We learned today of two suicide bombs in Afghanistan that killed nine journalists among other innocent people. In America, their credibility is under attack from the administration and its supporters. In a Quinnipiac poll last week of over 1,100 people, more than half of the Republicans surveyed, when given the choice between “important part of democracy” and “enemy of the people” described the media as the latter.
The media has a credibility problem with the right, and every time they feed into it, they make it worse. Some throw around high-minded terms like “without fear or favor” and “democracy dies in darkness” and expect the American people to accept their impartiality on faith because they are journalists.
Then they go on Twitter and bare their souls.
They hold a dinner honoring journalism where a comedian launches personal attacks on the president, his press secretary and others. Journalists even participated in her act (Wolf said, “Trump is so broke…” and the audience responds, “How broke is he?” five times). There were some funny lines, but the underlying theme is that Republicans are lying, racist, Nazis and pedophiles, some might be all four. While Wolf got some laughs, she lost a lot of the crowd three-quarters of the way through when she got particularly mean spirited about Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
It isn’t about a response to Trump’s own vulgarity; it is about a room of journalists at least abiding if not endorsing a brand of humor that not just impugns the administration, but also those who support it, which is a significant percent of Americans. Then they ask the same Americans to trust that they are objective. This was not lost on many who were in the room.
Wolf said it well herself when she said, “You should have done more research before you got me to do this.”