By now, nearly everyone has chimed in on Michelle Wolf’s controversial performance at this past weekend’s White House Correspondents Dinner. There are still some important elements, however, amidst all the mostly-faux outrage, which are being missed.
It is truly amazing how often stories get overblown news coverage and yet the primary point within them is still somehow missed. You would think that, when so many “shots” are fired, if only by accident something would hit the target. But in this situation that has not happened.
To review, the news media was in full scandal mode apparently because Michelle Wolf, a comedian, allegedly went too far in her criticisms of Sarah Sanders, whose job it is to lie on behalf of a bully who routinely levels vicious, personal, and inaccurate attacks as president of the United States. The same President Donald Trump, who was too chicken to show up for the charity event, which has for years effectively been a mutual roast for the president and the press, for the second straight year.
Even Trump himself, with no hint of understanding the old story of the pot and the kettle, or even the absurdity of a supposedly tough-guy, potty-mouthed, president attacking a comedian for being “filthy,” piled on. Those in his state-run media, of course, did the same (special snowflakes!).
I always get very nervous whenever people, especially comedians, are accused of speech crimes without the media being specific about what the actual infraction was. I have tried, and failed, to understand exactly what Wolf said about Trump or Sanders that was clearly out of bounds (her poor jokes about abortion and the victim of a recent airline accident actually were, but very little was made of them).
The best I can figure is that somehow Wolf complimenting Sanders’ eye makeup and indicating that she looks like she might play softball (and therefore was really calling her a fat lesbian?!) was what got mostly female members of the media to rush to her defense. The WHCA even released a gutless and hypocritical statement, one which didn’t even dignify Wolf with the use of her name, condemning the performance as not being in the “spirit” of the event (one which it appears the writer of the release has never actually attended before).
Seriously? Coming from this group of people, many of whom surely say far worse things about Sanders behind the scenes, clearly indicates that something else is really going on here, and I think I know what it is.
You see, Wolf’s most profound commentary during her performance was not even really meant to be a joke, and the point was aimed directly at the news media itself. Therefore, it is not a coincidence that this zinger was hardly even mentioned in the news coverage, with the media somehow not even making many of the lists of her top targets:
“You guys are obsessed with Trump. Did you use to date him? Because you pretend like you hate him, but I think you love him. I think what no one in this room wants to admit is that Trump has helped all of you. He couldn’t sell steaks or vodka or water or college or ties or Eric. But he has helped you. He’s helped you sell your papers and your books and your TV. You helped create this monster and now you’re profiting off of him. And if you’re going to profit off of Trump, you should at least give him some money because he doesn’t have any.”
This assessment strikes right to the bone of the inherent hypocrisy within all of the news media’s criticism of Trump. They largely looked the other way when other, very similar, behaviors became evident during the 2016 campaign, all because they knew he was very good for their struggling business models.
Now, they continue to profit, or at least maintain their jobs, because Trump has provided them with what they crave most: loads of easily-produced and compelling, ratings-friendly content. Ironically, Trump’s own words may have been the inspiration for Wolf’s bit as he himself has correctly assessed that he is a drug which the news media simply cannot afford to quit.
Joking about individual media members, or doing so generally in a less threatening way, would not have caused Wolf any real problems with her audience. But the revealing of this “dirty little secret” just cut too close to home for most of the people who were either there, or who later provided commentary about the event.
In short, the news media wanted to hate what Wolf did, and the attacks on Sanders simply provided a convenient “virtue signaling” vehicle through which they could achieve their goal. This allowed them to seem to be defending women (against a woman?), while being seen as fair to Trump by declaring him the “winner” of a fight which he was too much of a coward to even participate in.
Of course, Wolf herself is actually a bigger winner than even Trump. She is a far bigger name now than she was before this happened, and has a brand-new liberal fan base. So Wolf won, Trump won, Sanders won, and, by having something easy and stupid to talk about for three days, so did the news media.
Does anyone else sense a pattern here?
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at email@example.com
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.