Comedian Faces Criticism After Controversial Remarks At D.C. Gala : NPR
Updated on Monday at 12:09 p.m. ET
President Trump’s absence for the second year in a row from the annual White House Correspondents’ dinner may end up being the least controversial thing about Saturday night’s gathering of the White House press corps.
Chatter online among journalists and some in the administration’s orbit after the event was full of criticism for comedian Michelle Wolf, who was the evening’s headliner; criticism and soul-searching about the annual event itself; and an effort by former White House press secretary Sean Spicer to pressure the leadership of the White House Correspondents’ Association into answering for Wolf’s vulgar, personal jabs leveled primarily at the president and his inner circle.
The comedian spoke for roughly 20 minutes to a ballroom full of Washington’s top journalists and political operatives. As The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi wrote, Wolf’s remarks “swerved from raunchy to downright nasty.”
“She was particularly hard on the women associated with Trump,” Farhi wrote, adding “several cracks about [White House press secretary] Sarah Huckabee Sanders landed poorly.” (Courtesy of two of Farhi’s colleagues at the Post, here’s a list of Wolf’s “harshest” jokes.) And Politico said Wolf’s performance “was a risque and uneven routine at first met with laughs but often greeted by awkward silence.”
The comedic routine laced with sexual innuendo and, at times, dominated by outright vulgarities was directed primarily at Republicans and conservatives — a fact not lost on those in the room who expressed their displeasure on Twitter afterward.
“My wife @mercedesschlapp and I walked out early from the wh correspondents dinner. Enough of elites mocking all of us,” Matt Schlapp posted on Twitter just before 11 p.m. Schlapp is the chairman of the American Conservative Union and his wife, Mercedes, is part of the White House’s communications team.
Former Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus called the night an “R/X rated spectacle that started poorly and ended up in the bottom of the canyon. Another victory for @realDonaldTrump for not attending and proving his point once again. The room was uncomfortable. Trump lovers and even a large number of Trump haters were pretty miserable.”
An R/X rated spectacle that started poorly and ended up in the bottom of the canyon. Another victory for @realDonaldTrump for not attending and proving his point once again. The room was uncomfortable. Trump lovers and even a large number of Trump haters were pretty miserable.
— Reince Priebus (@Reince) April 29, 2018
Spicer’s critique was more pointed. “Tonight’s #WHCD was a disgrace,” the former Trump spokesman said on Twitter.
On Monday, Trump weighed in, tweeting that the dinner was “is DEAD as we know it. This was a total disaster and an embarrassment to our great Country and all that it stands for. FAKE NEWS is alive and well and beautifully represented on Saturday night!”
The White House Correspondents’ Dinner is DEAD as we know it. This was a total disaster and an embarrassment to our great Country and all that it stands for. FAKE NEWS is alive and well and beautifully represented on Saturday night!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 30, 2018
The criticism was joined by some well-known political journalists who sounded off both about Wolf’s remarks and the nature of the event more broadly.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was the particular target of harsh treatment by Wolf — as Sanders sat on the dais not far from the lectern where Wolf was speaking. Afterward, some of the journalists from outlets known to spar with the White House or to be on the receiving end of pointed attacks directly from the president spoke out on Sanders’ behalf.
One example from Wolf’s performance: “And I’m never really sure what to call Sarah Huckabee Sanders, you know? Is it Sarah Sanders, is it Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is it Cousin Huckabee, is it Auntie Huckabee Sanders? What’s Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women? Oh, I know. Aunt Coulter.”
“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,” tweeted Maggie Haberman of The New York Times. (Haberman said on Twitter that she did not attend the event in person but had watched it on TV.)
“Lots of critics but she has always been decent and professional to me — if not entirely forthcoming,” The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey posted on Twitter about Sanders, attaching Haberman’s tweet about the Trump spokeswoman.
Lot of critics but she has always been decent and professional to me — if not entirely forthcoming (and I don’t expect any press secretary to be!) https://t.co/bM6Efz2Xmf
— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) April 29, 2018
“The spirit of the event had always been jokes that singe but don’t burn,” said Kelly O’Donnell of NBC News, “Reporters who work with her daily appreciate that @presssec was there.” Like Dawsey, O’Donnell included Haberman’s tweet praising Sanders’ composure under fire.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think we advanced the cause of journalism tonight,” Peter Baker, also of The New York Times, said online.
Baker’s tweet, as did Haberman’s, set off a series of responses, subtweets and amens from fellow journalists.