The Bubble: Liberals and conservatives debate whether Michelle Wolf went too far
At the 2018 White House Correspondents’ dinner, comedian Michelle Wolf delivered a number of racy jokes. Her main target seemed to be Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.
Each week, USA TODAY’s OnPolitics blog takes a look at how media from the left and the right reacted to a political news story, giving liberals and conservatives a peek into the other’s media bubble.
This week, liberals and conservatives reacted to Saturday Night’s White House Correspondents Dinner, and the controversial jokes from comedian Michelle Wolf, who hosted the event. Many on both sides thought Wolf’s material crossed the line by being mean rather than funny, criticizing her for perceived attacks on White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders’ appearance.
Some journalists agreed that Wolf went too far, including CNN’s Chris Cillizza, who wrote, “Bullying is bullying. And it’s wrong. Always.” But many liberals defended Wolf for speaking truth to power and making her elite company uncomfortable. They also cried hypocrisy in response to critics who attacked Wolf’s comments but have remained silent on President Trump’s nearly daily invectives.
Conservative bubble: Journalists liked Wolf because they’re mad Hillary lost
“Whereas past evenings encouraged witty roasts and for the most part good-natured digs, Wolf took the event to a new low,” wrote Liz Peek for Fox News.
Peek said Wolf — a “distinctly unfunny comedienne” — unleashed an “assault” that was “very much in keeping with how the liberal media views the White House. They detest President Trump, and the feeling is mutual. CNN, The New York Times, MSNBC and the rest cannot forgive President Trump for having denied Hillary Clinton her ‘inevitable’ presidency.”
The media should actually appreciate Trump because he “has not attacked the media in any serious manner. He has not ordered his Department of Justice to spy on reporters, as President Obama did with James Rosen, or seize months of phone records from the AP. He has not excluded any outlets from accessing important administration sources, as Obama did in putting Kenneth Feinberg off limits to Fox News in 2009.”
Liberal bubble: If you’re silent on Trump, shut up about Wolf
The Washington Post‘s Jonathan Capehart said Wolf “didn’t just cross the line. She blithely blew past it like a bank robber through a red light.”
“But when it came to Trump? Wolf totally killed it,” Capehart said. “Wolf’s eye-popping routine was simply a comedic reflection of Trump, whose presidential library will overflow with coarse, rude, ugly and personal attacks.”
“The criticism of Wolf by Republicans, the press and the public was inevitable,” Capehart said. “What makes it galling is that those screaming the loudest about Wolf are mute when it comes to Trump.”
So, until some of this righteous indignation and moral outrage at Wolf is directed at Trump for his inattention to the Flint water crisis and the devastation in Puerto Rico; his silence on the heroism of James Shaw Jr. and the demands for gun control; his disrespect for the rule of law and his inability to effectively govern without striking fear in the hearts of American families, folks need to shut up about Michelle Wolf.
Conservative bubble: Wolf’s performance gives Trump the last laugh
Wolf’s profanity-laced act wasn’t about the First Amendment, nor “was it about the #MeToo movement, which she attempted at one point to hide behind. It was simply a Saturday Night Massacre of dignity and common sense,” wrote Candid Camera host Peter Funt in The Wall Street Journal.
The dinner demonstrated that journalists hiring a comedian to “roast the officials they cover each day was never a good idea.” And Trump as wise to skip it, Funt said, because even his worst critics couldn’t have expected him to sit through it.
“Through this misguided event, the Correspondents’ Association has given Donald Trump what he wants most: the last laugh,” Funt said.
Liberal bubble: Wolf did what comedians are supposed to do
“Michelle Wolf did exactly what a great comic is supposed to do,” wrote comedian Adam Conover in The New York Times.
“The journalistic and political classes are very eager to borrow the cultural authority of comedians when it suits them,” Conover said. “But as soon as a comic does his or her job too well and uses comedy to speak a truth that could jeopardize the press’s attempt to befriend the political players they cover, reporters put away their cellphone cameras and cry, ‘Who invited such a rude woman?'”
If speaking truth to power isn’t what the White House Correspondents’ Association is looking for, it should “leave America’s comedians off the invite list,” Conover said.
Conservative bubble: Wolf blew up in the swells’ faces
“The swells and grandees of the White House Correspondents’ Association expected to have themselves a hearty laugh blowing up President Trump Saturday night,” said the National Review‘s Kyle Smith. “Instead, the WHCA was so rattled that it pulled the pin on its little comedy grenade and threw the pin at Trump. It held onto the grenade and it blew up in its face.”
Smith said Wolf was “mean-spirited, vulgar, and unfunny,” but that the dinner is always about making conservatives look bad, whether a Republican or Democrat is in office.
Trump, by refusing to play the game, has made everyone notice that it’s fixed, Smith said. “As he did with the Oscars and the National Football League before them, Trump has forced the WHCD to take a deep breath and think about whether it really wants to continue alienating half the country.”
Liberal bubble: Wolf hit too close too home for journalists
Speaking truth to power is great, but some of Wolf’s material — such as blaming the media for promoting Trump for profit — was too true for the powerful journalists attending the dinner, said Katha Pollitt, a columnist for The Nation.
“In a rather transparent attempt to divert attention from Wolf’s remarkably frank attack on media lapdoggishness, famous journalists spent the weekend twisting her joke about Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s eye makeup … into a sexist attack on her looks,” Pollitt said.
“Yes, of course Wolf was a little mean — it’s called a roast for a reason!” Pollitt said. “But what really matters is that Wolf was mean to someone who has direct power over journalists and their access to the White House. After all, Wolf made a not-funny fat joke about Chris Christie and nobody said a word about that. She joked about a tree falling on Kellyanne Conway and that mostly sailed by too. But Sanders is the gatekeeper. Laughing at her could have consequences.”
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