Comedian Michelle Wolf - host of Saturday night's White House Correspondents' Dinner and fixture at The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, has received wide-ranging criticism over a routine which many feel was beyond the pale, and could reflect poorly on Democrats going into midterms and beyond.
In addition to a poorly received abortion joke, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders endured a roasting that the president of the White House Correspondents' Association says ran counter to the "spirit of unity" they were going for (after nearly two solid years trying to dismantle Donald Trump, ironically).
Wolf, whose talk show The Break premieres in May on Netflix, started out with a softball joke likening Sanders to Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid's Tale. The jokes became gradually more tasteless, as Wolf said Sanders "burns facts," and then "uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye" - before devolving into calling her a liar and making fun of her name.
"I'm never really sure what to call Sarah Huckabee Sanders, you know? Is it Sarah Sanders, is it Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is it Cousin Huckabee, is it Auntie Huckabee Sanders?" Wolf joked. "What's Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women? Oh, I know. Aunt Coulter."
In a surprising, and rare demonstration of uniformity by the press, Wolf's performance received rebuke from both the left and the right. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell wrote in a comment retweeted by WHCA President Margaret Talev that "The spirit of the event had always been jokes that singe but don't burn."
Talev also told CNN's Brian Stelter on "Reliable Sources" that some of Wolf's jokes made her "uncomfortable."
"I appreciated Sarah Sanders for joining us at the head table and her grace through the program."
Talev told CNN that she went over to Sanders shortly after Wolf's routine. "I told her that I knew this was a big decision whether or not to attend the dinner and whether to sit at the head table and that I really appreciated her being there, that I thought it sent an important decision about the role government and the press being able to work together," Talev said.
"Michelle Wolf is a comedian and she speaks for herself, and that is her right to do that under the free speech and the First Amendment, which we were celebrating," she continued.
While Maggie Haberman of the New York Times noted how Sanders "sat and absorbed intense criticism of her physical appearance, her job performance, and so forth..."
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
... numerous other journalists distanced themselves from the dinner and Wolf's comments. Some such as Kyle Pope, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, took to Twitter to question the event's merit.
"The #WHCD debacle was inevitable, destined to be either sycophantic, on one extreme, or mean spirited, on the other. Neither is a good look at a time when trust in media is tenuous. Can we finally all agree to put an end to this thing?” he tweeted.
Others expanded on the criticism, with some - such as WaPo columnist Hugh Hewitt -calling for an end to the dinner altogether.
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
If the #WHCD dinner did anything tonight, it made the chasm between journalists and those who don't trust us, even wider. And those of us based in the red states who work hard every day to prove our objectivity will have to deal with it.— Meg Kinnard (@MegKinnardAP) April 29, 2018
Unfortunately, I don't think we advanced the cause of journalism tonight.— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) April 29, 2018
Being mean is not really funny.— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) April 29, 2018
Classless. https://t.co/gNo6HJQImN— Stephen Hayes (@stephenfhayes) April 29, 2018
Other journalists called Wolf's routine "mean," while more demanded an apology for Sanders.
"Apology is owed to @PressSec and others grossly insulted ny Michelle Wolf at White House Correspondents Assoc dinner which started with uplifting heartfelt speech by @margarettalev - comedian was worst since Imus insulted Clinton’s," NBC News reporter Andrea Mitchell tweeted.
Apology is owed to @PressSec and others grossly insulted ny Michelle Wolf at White House Correspondents Assoc dinner which started with uplifting heartfelt speech by @margarettalev - comedian was worst since Imus insulted Clinton’s— Andrea Mitchell (@mitchellreports) April 29, 2018
The Daily Mail's David Martosko said offering a public apology "would be the right thing to do."
If the @WHCA doesn't apologize for last night's personal attacks on the president's @PressSec Sarah Sanders, they're handing her moral high ground that she's too smart to fritter away. Also, offering a public apology would be the right thing to do.— David Martosko (@dmartosko) April 29, 2018
In reference to the MSM's circling of wagons around MSNBC's Joy Reid - whose homophobic blog posts from a decade ago were recently unearthed, Ricochet's Bethany Mandel pointed out that "The woke media spent the weekend covering for homophobic jokes from one of their own and laughed at the Press Sec being called a lesbian."
The woke media spent the weekend covering for homophobic jokes from one of their own and laughed at the Press Sec being called a lesbian. 👍— Bethany S. Mandel (@bethanyshondark) April 29, 2018
White House Strategic Communications Director Mercedes Schlapp and her husband, American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp, tweeted that they walked out before the end of the event. "Completely appalled by the so called and twisted comedian at the #WHCA dinner who attacked @SarahHuckabee," said Mercedes, while Matt tweeted "Enough of elites mocking all of us."
My wife @mercedesschlapp and I walked out early from the wh correspondents dinner. Enough of elites mocking all of us— Matt Schlapp (@mschlapp) April 29, 2018
Predictably, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer tweeted that the dinner was "a disgrace"
Tonight’s #WHCD was a disgrace— Sean Spicer (@seanspicer) April 29, 2018
Comedy veteran Roseanne Barr pointed out that Wolf made a cardinal error by making fun of someone more famous than her that's sitting in the audience, while journalist Jack Posobiec noted the hypocrisy of the sea of liberals defending Wolf following per performance.
first rule of comedy: NEVER target someone more famous than U who is in the audience. U will lose the entire crowd.— Roseanne Barr (@therealroseanne) April 29, 2018
Democrats: We must stand against bullies!— Jack Posobiec (@JackPosobiec) April 29, 2018
Also Democrats: Michelle Wolf was amazing!!
Comedian Tim Young suggested that the "hatred and divisiveness" coming from the left towards President Trump and Sarah Sanders "is why Trump will win again in 2020."
FYI: The hatred and divisiveness coming out tonight toward Trump/Sarah Sanders thanks to Michelle Wolf's #WHCD monologue is why Trump will win again in 2020.— Tim Young (@TimRunsHisMouth) April 29, 2018
Oh, and here's that abortion joke along with the rest of the routine:
The worst part of Michelle Wolf’s garbage performance last night wasn’t her nasty riff on Huckabee Sanders. It was that dumpster fire abortion joke. But few were as offended by her literally celebrating baby killing as they were by her knocking eye shadow.— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) April 29, 2018