April 28 marked the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, one of the most pernicious and harmful manifestations of the symbiotic relationship between the mainstream media and powerful political figures. While masquerading as a celebration of the First Amendment, the event provides a platform for those in the media to cozy up to politicians they are supposed to hold accountable.
The only redeeming part of the evening is the comedic entertainment, which was provided this year by former Daily Show contributor Michelle Wolf. In a wide-ranging speech, Wolf excoriated President Donald Trump and multiple administration officials. One memorable joke involved her trying to find an appropriate name for Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House press secretary. “What’s Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women? Oh, I know, Aunt Coulter,” Wolf said. She also criticized the media’s obsessive focus on Trump. “Did you used to date him?” Wolf asked the journalists in the room. “You act like you hate him, but I think you really love him.” She continued, “You helped create this monster, and now you’re profiting off of him.”
Wolf’s jokes didn’t go over well with much of the media, which complained she was too mean. Politico’s Kyle Cheney tweeted that Wolf’s performance undermined “an otherwise meaningful night.” NBC’s Andrea Mitchell called Wolf’s speech one of the worst ever by a comedian at the dinner. And Margaret Talev, White House Correspondents’ Association president, released a statement saying Wolf’s monologue was not “in the spirit” of the event’s mission.
Leave it to the mainstream media to entirely miss the point. Wolf could have come to the dinner and done the lighthearted humor many were expecting. But instead, she took the opportunity provided to speak truth to power. Through jokes, she articulated the dangers of what Trump and those in his administration believe, and she reprimanded the mainstream media for abdicating journalistic responsibility and ethics in much of its coverage of Trump. But rather than wrestle with any of these important points or consider how they could better speak truth to power, many journalistic elites instead opted to condemn Wolf for her lack of decorum.
It isn’t the first time this has happened at the event. At the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Stephen Colbert ripped George W. Bush and the media’s soft coverage of him. After the event, his performance was disparaged by much of the media.
The best–case scenario going into the future would be to end the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, which — to their credit — some journalists have called for. But if the White House Correspondents’ Association insists on continuing this annual charade, the least journalists can do is take any critiques seriously rather than desperately rushing to delegitimize those who air them.