Sometimes you just want to wish a pox on all their houses.
I shed no tears for Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Reports about Michelle Wolf's performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner gave the impression that SHS was the focus of the comedian's venom. This morning I sat through a youtube video of the whole thing. SHS was subjected to abuse for only a small portion of a twenty-minute set that seemed longer. Wolf was harsh, crude, and foul but not unfair to the press secretary who day in, day out, says things that are not true in the service of a man noted for his vulgarity who has not so much as a passing acquaintance with truth.
The president wasted no time spewing faux outrage to stir up the base. The tweet by conservative activist Matt Schlapp, who with his wife, White House director of strategic communications Mercedes Schlapp, walked out early—"Enough of elites mocking all of us"—could have been scripted. Maybe it was. It was reported that the president invited White House staff to attend the dinner. Did they go looking to take offense, set to stage a walk-out? Is it too cynical to suggest the possibility of a set-up? No, I do not really believe it was a set-up, but with this bunch you have to wonder.
My side of the cultural and political divide split between those who demonstrated their evenhandedness by denouncing Wolf for going after SHS and their counterparts who lauded Wolf's courage and honesty in speaking truth to power. Both responses are overblown.
I would have loved a witty skewering. Carve them up deftly with a rapier. Wolf came armed with blunderbuss and sledgehammer. In fairness to her, this seems to be the standard for comedy these days. It is unfortunate that she played into a narrative the Trumpists push to sow discord. I wish she had been funnier.
Memo from the Editorial Desk
Update after this article was published: The best take on the whole foofaraw comes courtesy of The Economist, a British publication of conservative bent: The Wolf at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Thanks to T-Bone for bringing it to my attention. The column does not give an inch in its advocacy for a free, unfettered, and adversial press. Noting Mercedes Schlapp's assertion after the speech that "journalists should not be the ones to say that the president or his spokesman is lying," the author responded bluntly:
This raises an obvious question—if not journalists, then whom?—with an equally obvious answer: nobody. Mr Trump’s communication staff would prefer it if nobody pointed out when he and his media team lie.
His conclusion is unyielding:
Calls for press-corps civility are in fact calls for servility, and should be received with contempt.... In open societies, self-censorship—in the name of civility, careerism or access preservation—is a much greater threat to the media than outright repression. The only person owed an apology here is Ms Wolf, for being scolded by the very people who invited her to speak, and who purport to defend a "vigorous and free press."