White House correspondents dinner emcee Michelle Wolf — with her angry, not-remotely-clever, deeply personal monologue on Saturday night — made President TrumpDonald TrumpCheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump Republicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks DeVos says 'principles have been overtaken by personalities' in GOP MORE's argument that the press is infinitely more hostile toward him and his administration than toward any other president in history.
Is Wolf the press? Of course not. But she was chosen by the prestigious White House Correspondents Association to headline the evening at the Washington Hilton that included a national television audience.
So how bad was it? For the first time in its history for this event, C-SPAN radio stopped broadcasting Wolf's performance just over halfway through it and opted for a repeat of "Washington Journal" in her place, citing concerns over "compatibility with the FCC's indecency guidelines."
White House Correspondents Association president Margaret Talev at first defended Wolf on CNN on Sunday, calling her "a talented comedian who had a message to deliver, and she did deliver a message."
Part of that message to which Talev referred was to disparage the physical appearance of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders while calling her the "Uncle Tom of white women," which was booed in the room.
“I was there. It was disgusting, despicable. Sarah Sanders should get an apology from the White House Correspondents’ Association,” said Ed Henry, Fox News’ chief national correspondent on the network Sunday.
Talev, feeling heat from all sides for defending Wolf, capitulated somewhat — without apologizing to Sanders — in a statement later Sunday.
"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," Talev said. "Unfortunately, the entertainer's monologue was not in the spirit of that mission."
Other journalists were everything from outraged with Wolf to impressed with Sanders for not walking out, starting first with the latter and including New York Times White House correspondent 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.— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) April 29, 2018
Watching a wife and mother be humiliated on national television for her looks is deplorable. I have experienced insults about my appearance from the president. All women have a duty to unite when these attacks happen and the WHCA owes Sarah an apology.— Mika Brzezinski (@morningmika) April 29, 2018
Unfortunately, I don't think we advanced the cause of journalism tonight.— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) April 29, 2018
Couldn’t agree more. So much important and amazing journalism this year — that should be the focus, when truth matters and is needed more than ever. It was an embarrassment in the room and surely to the audience at home. https://t.co/vhbnG6tn55— Jeff Zeleny (@jeffzeleny) April 29, 2018
Michelle Wolf attacking @PressSec last night was wrong. Full stop.— Trey Yingst (@TreyYingst) April 29, 2018
Being a comedian is one thing, being a bully is something completely different.
As a member of the WHCA, I join many of my colleagues in saying that Sarah deserves an apology.
Michelle Wolf didn’t fail just because she was (spectacularly) one-sided. It was because she was unnecessarily cruel on a night the WHCA was trying to showcase decency and purpose.— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) April 29, 2018
Undermined an otherwise meaningful night.
The usually reserved Fox News anchor Bret Baier weighed in by going so far as to say the dinner should be canceled next year for "retooling."
Maybe this week —the #WHCA should announce that there will be NO dinner in 2019. Take the year off. Instead -use the year to raise a lot money for journalism scholarships (networks step up) - present scholarships & then come back in 2020 with a rebooted -retooled #WHCADinner.— Bret Baier (@BretBaier) April 29, 2018
And CNBC's John Harwood seemed to suggest cancelling the dinner outright in a Sunday tweet:
put WHCD to sleep— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) April 29, 2018
President Trump, seeing the overwhelming criticism of Wolf's performance, did what any politician would do when an already-unpopular institution is on the defensive: He poured gas on the fire on Monday morning.
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
So what's the solution? Well, for starters, perhaps consider a better vetting process of comedians, because the conversation appears to sound something like this lately:
WHCA member: "So, who should we get to headline the White House correspondents dinner this year?"
Another member: "Michelle Wolf works for Comedy Central, which has the word 'comedy' in it and therefore must mean she's funny!"
Another member: "Should we look at her past standup and work on the channel before making an offer?
Another member: "Nah. We've hired Comedy Central people the past four years in a row. What could go wrong?"
And that's true: Cecily Strong, Larry Wilmore, Hasan Minhaj and Wolf all hail from Comedy Central which, as one would expect, was vehemently pro-Obama and anti-Trump. And that's fine. But perhaps looking outside of one channel with an overwhelming tilt might be in order.
As for Wolf, CNN's Chris Cillizza sums up what her mission was: to elevate Michelle Wolf's career. And who can blame her? Even she said just a few minutes into her monologue, "Yeah, [you] shoulda done more research before you got me to do this."
"Don't be fooled: Wolf knew exactly what she was doing on Saturday night," wrote Cillizza in a Sunday column. "She knew that the speech — at least in parts — was likely to go over like a lead balloon in the room. And that it would stir huge amounts of controversy in its wake."
"THAT WAS THE POINT," he added in all-caps before pointing out that, while almost no one had heard of Wolf before, they certainly knew her now as she launches her Netflix series next month.
Net-net: Along with Trump, Wolf is the big winner here because narrow-casting to one side of the country that despises the president is the goal. It works for Stephen Colbert, after all.
But maybe its time to go back to booking comedians who understand what "deft touch" and "right tone" mean for an event like this.
Censor comedy? Not on your life.
Yet, there's a time and place for what Wolf delivered on Saturday night. Bill Maher's HBO show, which you can agree or disagree with, is unapologetic. You can bet the house she'll be visiting that set in the next week or two.
The White House correspondents’ dinner is supposed to represent the best in media. In 2018, the dinner was also meant to show that the press covering the president and his administration is not hostile, not personal, not petty in its coverage.
Wolf knew that — she didn't care. She's about advancing her career among millennials. And she succeeded more than she could have dreamed.
Looking to point the finger somewhere?
Your first and only place to point is at the people who decided giving Wolf such a stage as they did on Saturday night.
Joe Concha is a media reporter for The Hill. Follow him on Twitter at@JoeConchaTV.