Comedian Michelle Wolf’s roast at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday has generated a great deal of buzz.
The roast was not without its funny moments. Some of Wolf’s jokes were edgy and brilliant. (“Fox News is here. So, you know what that means, ladies: Cover your drinks. Seriously.”) Funny or not, the consensus seems to be that it was a tasteless, partisan, mean-spirited affair. It was denounced by several White House correspondents in attendance, such as CNN reporter Jeff Zeleny, as well as anti-Trumpists such as MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski.
“Watching a wife and mother be humiliated on national television for her looks is deplorable,” MSNBC’s Brzezinski wrote on Twitter. “All women have a duty to unite when these attacks happen and the WHCA owes Sarah an apology.”
Though a few people have attempted to defend Wolf’s address, the White House Correspondents’ Association itself issued an apology for Wolf’s 20-minute monologue.
“Last night’s program was meant to offer a unifying message about our common commitment to a vigorous and free press while honoring civility, great reporting and scholarship winners, not to divide people,” said WHCA president Margaret Talev. “Unfortunately, the entertainer’s monologue was not in the spirit of that mission.”
I personally found parts of the roast cruel and tacky. But throwing Wolf under the bus hardly seems fair. She’s a raunchy comedian hired to roast the powerful. She gave a fitting monologue to a press corps that openly scorns, mocks, and attacks the president. The WHCA pretty much got what it paid for.
Which brings us to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner itself. The notion that the dinner is about the First Amendment is laughable, perhaps even more laughable than the suggestion that its mission is to “honor civility.”
Journalist Glenn Greenwald described it more accurately recently when he called it “a vulgar celebration of Versailles sleaze.” Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi was not far off when he labeled it “an orgy of credential-worship.”
The truth is that the dinner serves no purpose beyond its own self-aggrandizement. But that’s not Michelle Wolf’s fault. She was hired to do a roast, and even her most offensive comments—calling the president a white supremacist and a Nazi, for example—essentially affirmed what most major media have been saying about the president before and after his successful run for the presidency.
Wolf is being condemned not because her monologue strayed from the organization’s “mission,” but because her performance gives lie to the notion that these highly-credentialed correspondents are independent-minded, objective seekers of truth.
The WHCA knew exactly who Wolf was when it hired her. Her fault lies in performing her work—partisan, crude, mean-spirited as it may be—only too well.
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