President Donald Trump reveled in his decision to skip the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, taking to Twitter on Sunday to celebrate all the negative reviews the annual event received. “Everyone is talking about the fact that the White House Correspondents Dinner was a very big, boring bust…the so-called comedian really ‘bombed’,” Trump wrote while also celebrating the “big success” of his Michigan rally. Although it’s hardly surprising that Trump would say that the event he refused to take part in was a failure, he was hardly alone in that assessment. Many journalists also agreed the dinner hit all the wrong notes, focusing particularly on comedian Michelle Wolf and her “unnecessarily cruel” routine, as Politico reporter Kyle Cheney wrote on Twitter.
Several in the media agreed with New York Times reporter Peter Baker who wrote that the annual dinner failed to advance “the cause of journalism.” CNN’s Jeff Zeleny linked to Baker’s tweet noting the focus should be on the “important and amazing journalism this year” at a time “when truth matters and is needed more than ever.”
Others said Wolf struck the wrong tone because her jokes were on the mean side. Politico’s Playbook said Wolf “took it too far” because the annual dinner is “supposed to be a light-hearted affair that honors good journalism and raises scholarship money.” Although “it’s gotten a bit out of hand … there’s no reason to be mean. Mean isn’t funny.” NBC’s Andrea Mitchell said that an “apology is owed” to those who were “grossly insulted” by Wolf.
For some journalists, the night should serve as a wake up call that the current way the annual dinner is set up isn’t working. “The WHCD should be about honoring the best in journalism. Enough with the comedians, enough with the late-night parties,” Mika Brzezinski wrote on Twitter. “These are serious times for both the free press and the public they serve.” In the Washington Post, Margaret Sullivan writes that while “it never has been a particularly good idea for journalists to don their fanciest clothes and cozy up to the people they cover … in the current era, it’s become close to suicidal for the press’s credibility.”
Associated Press journalist Meg Kinnard struck a similar note when she wrote on Twitter that the dinner would make her life as a reporter more difficult. “If the #WHCD dinner did anything tonight, it made the chasm between journalists and those who don’t trust us, even wider,” she wrote. Tim Alberta from Politico Magazine said the dinner seemed to confirm “every caricature thrust upon the national press,” adding that the dinner “is broken. Fix it or end it.”
Even though Wolf sought to mock Trump, some were quick to say her jokes would end up helping him. “The routine was a political gift to the Trump admin,” wrote Jon Ward from Yahoo News. He was hardly alone in saying that the dinner would benefit the president. Mike Allen wrote that the media handed Trump a “big, embarrassing win” with the diner.
Not everyone agreed with the negative assessment though. The Nation’s Joan Walsh likened Wolf’s routine with the now-famous monologue by Stephen Colbert at the 2006 dinner. “The crowd is scandalized (even some liberals), but a lot of people see it as the right reaction to the scandal that is @realDonaldTrump,” Walsh wrote.
And as Jon Favreau, co-host of Pod Save America, pointed out, Wolf ended her speech by noting that Flint still doesn’t have clean water in “an attempt to point out Washington’s continued neglect of people who need help.” But a day later, “Washington responds with a rigorous debate about the tone and civility of the comedian’s jokes. Perfect.”
Wolf took to Twitter to push back against those who say she attacked White House press secretary Sara Huckabee Sanders’ looks. “Why are you guys making this about Sarah’s looks? I said she burns facts and uses the ash to create a *perfect* smoky eye,” she wrote.
“I complimented her eye makeup and her ingenuity of materials.” She also linked to a tweet by former White House press secretary calling the dinner a “disgrace” with two words: “Thank you!”