Apr 29, 2018 - Economy

Media hands Trump big, embarrassing win

Comedian Michelle Wolf smiles at the camera

Host Michelle Wolf at last night's White House Correspondents' Dinner. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

The White House Correspondents' Dinner ended with a barrage of vulgar anti-Trump jokes by comedian Michelle Wolf, who attacked the appearance of White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who was sitting with her at the head table.

What they're saying: White House officials in the audience thought Wolf's patter went too far, and thought the attacks on Sanders and Kellyanne Conway were too personal.

Be smart: That creates a new hurdle for the White House Correspondents' Association to lure President Trump, who has snubbed the dinner the last two years.

The reaction:

  • ABC's Jon Karl, a WHCA board member, said on "Good Morning America": "I think the comedian crossed the line and this went from poking fun to being mean-spirited."
  • Drudge's banner headline: "SMUT STAND-UP SHOCKS DC!"
  • Trump tweets: "While Washington, Michigan, was a big success, Washington, D.C., just didn’t work. Everyone is talking about the fact that the White House Correspondents Dinner was a very big, boring bust...the so-called comedian really “bombed.” [Fox's] @greggutfeld should host next year! @PeteHegseth."

Why it matters: If the dinner can only attract liberal presidents and liberal comedians, the conclusion is inevitable.

Reality check from Jon Favreau, Crooked Media co-founder and "Pod Save America" co-host:

  • "Comedian ends comedy dinner by saying that Flint still doesn’t have clean water, an attempt to point out Washington’s continued neglect of people who need help. Washington responds with a rigorous debate about the tone and civility of the comedian’s jokes. Perfect."
  • "I really don’t know if I can handle a week of fighting over a comedy speech at a dinner."

How things went off the rails:

  • The Gridiron Club, which hosts another major dinner for Washington reporters, has a rule for its roasters: "Singe, don't burn."
  • And one guest told me a good rule of thumb for comedy is not to attack how people look or who they are.
  • Wolf — an alumnus of "The Daily Show" who has a Netflix talk show coming May 27 — didn't follow either of those, and said after an anatomical joke: "Should've done more research before you got me to do this."
  • She made several uses of a vulgarity that begins with "p," in an audience filled with Washington officials, top journalists and a few baseball legends (Brooks Robinson, Tony La Russa and Dennis Eckersley).

Among the printable jokes:

  • “Just a reminder to everyone: I’m here to make jokes. I have no agenda. I’m not trying to get anything accomplished. So everyone who's here from Congress, you should feel right at home.”
  • "I'm 32 years old, which is an odd age: 10 years too young to hostthis event, and 20 years too old for Roy Moore.”
  • "It's 2018 and I'm a woman, so you cannot shut me up [applause] — unless you have Michael Cohen wire me $130,000. Michael, you can find me on Venmo under my porn-star name: Reince Priebus."
  • "It is kind of crazy that the Trump campaign was in contact with Russia when the Hillary campaign wasn’t even in contact with Michigan.”

Wolf was panned by journo-twitter:

  • CNN's Jeff Zeleny: "It was an embarrassment in the room and surely to the audience at home."
  • N.Y. Times' Maggie Haberman: "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."
  • N.Y. Times' Peter Baker: "I would vote to leave the comedy acts to comedy shows and stick to journalism at journalism dinners."

Trump held a counter-programming rally in Washington Township, Mich., where he said:

  • "You may have heard I was invited to another event tonight, the White House Correspondents' Dinner. But i'd much rather be at Washington, Michigan, than in Washington, D.C., right now — that I can tell you." [Cheers]
  • Something new from the rally ... In addition to "Lock her up" (still a thing at Trump rallies), the crowd chanted "Nobel!" when Trump talked about North Korea.

Correspondents' association president Margaret Talev — standing under a banner that said "CELEBRATING THE FIRST AMENDMENT" — began the evening by saying:

  • "The journalists we’re celebrating tonight help keep our democracy healthy."
  • "We reject efforts by anyone, especially our elected leaders, to paint journalism as un-American, to undermine trust between reporter and reader, to cast doubt on the relevance of facts and truth in the modern age. An attack on any journalist is an attack on us all."
  • "This isn’t about protecting the business of journalism. It’s about protecting the rule of law."

The bottom line: Watch for big debate whether to end the dinner as we know it, and whether some news organizations announce they will no longer attend. 

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