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The Hill to end attendance at WHCA dinner without 'major reforms'

The Hill said Tuesday it is pulling out of future White House Correspondents' dinners without “major reforms” to the event following the controversy that erupted over comedian Michelle Wolf’s performance at this year’s dinner on Saturday.

“The Hill, which has participated in the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) dinner for many years, does not plan at this time to participate in the event moving forward,” James Finkelstein, The Hill’s chairman, wrote in a letter dated Tuesday to Steven Thomma, executive director of the White House Correspondents’ Association. 

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“In short, there's simply no reason for us to participate in something that casts our profession in a poor light. Major changes are needed to the annual event,” the letter states.

Finkelstein’s letter criticized Wolf’s performance as “out of line” and said that The Hill hoped the dinner could get “back to talking about the importance of the Fourth Estate without the kind of ugly sideshow that completely overshadowed the event this year.”

“Along those lines, we will happily donate in the future to the WHCA scholarship program and hope this program can produce future journalists to fight for freedom of the press while remaining non-partisan,” Finkelstein wrote. “In the meantime, without major reforms, The Hill no longer wishes to participate in future dinners.”

Wolf is a stand-up comic who has appeared on Comedy Central and HBO and is about to debut a show on Netflix.

In her performance on Saturday, she skewered President TrumpDonald John TrumpKey takeaways from the Arizona Senate debate Major Hollywood talent firm considering rejecting Saudi investment money: report Mattis says he thought 'nothing at all' about Trump saying he may leave administration MORE and the press — and took a number of shots at White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was seated on stage. At one point Wolf referred to Sanders as “the Uncle Tom” for white women.

The performance has been criticized by conservatives but also by a number of people in the media, and did not go over well with people in the room. A number of comedians and talk show hosts, however, have come to Wolf’s defense, including late night hosts Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers.

WHCA president Margaret Talev issued a statement last Sunday expressing some regret over Wolf’s performance.

“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,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, the entertainer's monologue was not in the spirit of that mission.”

Complaints about the dinner have picked up under Trump, who has boycotted the event in his two years in office. His decision to not attend has left the events more one-sided, with a comic roast awkwardly alongside a dinner otherwise dedicated to providing awards and scholarships and celebrating press freedoms.

Finkelstein wrote that the annual event has become “something that casts our profession in a poor light” and that it should be “non-partisan and done without hostility and personal animus toward the party that occupies the White House — regardless of who is in power.”

Here is Finkelstein’s full statement:

Dear Mr. Thomma,

I am Chairman of The Hill.

The Hill, which has participated in the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) dinner for many years, does not plan at this time to participate in the event moving forward.

In short, there's simply no reason for us to participate in something that casts our profession in a poor light. Major changes are needed to the annual event.  

"We work to ensure a strong, free press and robust coverage of the presidency," reads your website.

"We share the belief, held by our country’s Founders and enshrined in the First Amendment, that an independent news media is vital to the health of the republic," it continues. 

We all agree. But that also means that the dinner must be non-partisan and done without hostility and personal animus toward the party that occupies the White House  -- regardless of who is in power. 

We recall fondly how past dinners were tremendous spectacles of dignity that were enjoyed by all. 

Comedians headlining those dinners were sharp and made fun of both the media and the Commander-in-Chief in a way that could induce laughs while not being so offensive and vulgar that C-SPAN actually cut off its radio broadcast, as was the case this year for the first time ever. 

The kind of jokes told by this year's headliner, Michelle Wolf, were out of line for an event that's supposed to be fun -- and fair.  

Based on what Americans witnessed on national television at Saturday night's dinner, a once-fine evening celebrating the strong, free press the WHCA speaks of has turned into an angry display and ad-hominem attacks. 

A solid majority of journalists from the left and right have condemned this year's comedian and rightly so. 

The association made apologies, albeit not to the press secretary, only after the pressure compelled it to happen.  

We hope the dinner can get back to talking about the importance of the Fourth Estate without the kind of ugly sideshow that completely overshadowed the event this year.

Along those lines, we will happily donate in the future to the WHCA scholarship program and hope this program can produce future journalists to fight for freedom of the press while remaining non-partisan.

In the meantime, without major reforms, The Hill no longer wishes to participate in future dinners.

Sincerely,

James Finkelstein