Sometimes you have to wait a week to see if something really takes hold. Did I actually like Infinity War or was I just shocked and emotional? Is Ben Simmons really the new LeBron James or just Jason Kidd with less baggage? Did I really like that new Travis Scott track or was I just curious about the Kanye West lyrics? Check back with me in a week.
All too often, there are a million takes on an event, a person or a statement in the moment, but once you get it all in the rearview mirror, you realize that everybody fell for the banana in the tailpipe. That’s what happened with the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. After a week of takes, debates and cowardly apologies, you realize that this is what everyone wanted. There is no controversy here. In fact, there were so many wins going on from that night that the DJ is about to remix the entire evening.
By now, the entire White House Correspondents’ Dinner has been chewed through thoroughly, but here’s a quick recap. Donald Trump didn’t show up. White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders did. Michelle Wolf, formerly of The Daily Show (more on that later), did a set and made fun of some people, and a few politicos and reporters got huffy and offended. The White House Correspondents’ Association apologized. Then Kanye started talking. Then Rudy Giuliani started talking. That’s pretty much the week. Yet looking back on it all, there are trophies upon trophies to hand out to darn near everyone.
Winner: Michelle Wolf
Do you realize that nobody knew who Michelle Wolf was before the White House Correspondents’ Dinner? People in the security line for the dinner were whispering, “I think she’s from The Daily Show?” I watch The Daily Show and didn’t know who she was; if you told me Michelle Wolf was a Westworld host created from the Comedy World, I would have believed you.
She delivered a hilarious set (I was there—90 percent of the room was laughing), doubled her Twitter following and got a ton of attention for her new show, The Break, on Netflix. Which, again—prior to this “controversy”—nobody would have ever heard of.
Despite the disingenuous hand-wringing of a few Washington, D.C., publications and being accused of bestiality by the insane fake news posse, Wolf comes out of this a winner. She’s the hero of the comedy circuit, getting praise from legends like Tina Fey, David Alan Grier, Kathy Griffin, Chelsea Handler, her old boss Trevor Noah and Rosie O’Donnell. She’s also the new poster child of the #Resistance. Not bad for a 19-minute set from a heretofore underrated and unheard-of comic.
Everyone working at the White House hates Trump; that’s become pretty obvious through the just about 8 million stories written in major newspapers and magazines over the last year. Most of these stories about Trump’s bad attitude, ineptitude, corruption and bad management come from leaks within the administration. These leaks aren’t easy to get; reporters, analysts and probably even some Bothans died to get this information out to the public (obligatory “May the 4th” reference!). However, the Trump leakers and the press are like secret lovers—they all have to pretend that they’re not doing what they’re doing. Every once in a while, though, you have to publicly kiss the ring, and the WHCD was the perfect opportunity.
Several high-minded reporters and news outlets had to feign offense at Wolf’s jokes or come to the defense of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, because it was a way of publicly signifying to the White House that they were still worthy of being leaked to. Now, let me be clear: I’m sure that some journalists were legitimately offended for themselves and for Sanders at the dinner, but I am equally sure that some of those complaining were signaling to the White House that they were still on #TeamLeak and could be trusted to make a big display of defending the honor of this administration, if not its ethics and policies.
This is a president who routinely attacks the free press, called for them to be fired and threatened to jail them. Apparently, selling out democracy is a small price to pay for the next leaked story that Donald and Melania Trump hardly see each other during the week.
Is this your president?
Winner: The Trump Administration
This is the second year in a row that Donald Trump hasn’t attended the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. I think he’s still in recovery from 2011. Worth noting: This is reason No. 289,745 that former President Barack Obama is responsible for Trump’s presidency. Obama went at Trump for about five minutes at the 2011 WHCD, and the audience loved it. (I’m convinced that Trump never got over being publicly ethered by 44 during that dinner and literally ran for the presidency five years later out of spite. I’m sure I can prove this somehow; just give me some time.)
Trump and his right-wing cronies won from the Correspondents’ Dinner because they got to engage in the rhetorical trifecta of the modern right wing:
- Claim they are victims.
- Come to the defense of “groups” they otherwise despise.
- Watch “liberals” hang themselves with a hemp rope of hypocrisy.
Now, most of this is absolute garbage. The Trump administration’s treatment of women is so bad that Harvey Weinstein wants to sue for copyright infringement, but getting the chance to come to the defense of Sanders—who, mind you, was not insulted for her looks—gives the “alt-right,” far-right, pro-Trump, anti-fact echo chamber in America something to get hot and bothered about until the next Roseanne think piece comes out.
I was at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner with co-workers from The Root, and we had a great time. Because I’m a natural wanderer who never mastered the fine art of sitting still at a table while wearing a suit, I actually caught a large part of Wolf’s set in the back of the main dining hall with the waitstaff and the security staff.
They all found it hilarious; I talked about it on air the next afternoon. I remember one black woman who was working as waitstaff mouthing the word “DAAAYYYYUMMM” to a security guard in the back who was trying to hold back laughter.
You see, to regular people, whom the news is supposed to serve, a night where the president and the more pretentious aspects of the mainstream media get made fun of is just fun. The folks in the back whom I stood with, as well as the majority of the journalists in that room, recognized that a 19-minute comedy bit about how much the White House lies will not destroy democracy or press freedom, or even sully the evening.
However, the press pretending that it might when the smoke cleared got everyone what they wanted—except, of course, the news consumer who realizes a week later that they were forced to participate in a fake story for the press’s benefit.