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Correspondents' Dinner Shows Danger of Strident Dialogue

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Cable television has continued to buzz in reaction to the remarks from comedian Michelle Wolf at the White House Correspondents' Dinner this past weekend.

Wolf has been on the receiving end of widespread condemnation for steering her monologue far over the line of what should be considered acceptable.

Wolf hurled personal insults not only at President Trump but also Vice President Pence, White House Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders and others affiliated with the current administration.

I was in attendance at the dinner, and within the Hilton ballroom there was a sense of shock and disapproval that was truly palpable. I have seen television clips from the event, and many liberal and mainstream media outlets made it seem like Wolf's statements were much better received than they really were.

Wolf shocked the conscience with her crass, vulgar and offensive jokes. To make matters worse, Wolf is only one example of celebrities and entertainers who have apparently taken it upon themselves to show contempt and disrespect to the public servants serving in the Trump Administration.

The profoundly negative language and cynical mocking of the Administration does nothing but continue to spread a growing lack of respect for our country's leaders and continue to instigate division among America's citizens.

On the one hand, I actually see it as a good thing that the media is discussing the condemnation that Wolf's act clearly deserved. This attention brings enlightenment to a sad trend of callous disrespect for the Oval Office.

Far too often there are similar instances far outside the public knowledge and beyond the glare of national television lights that go unnoticed.

Of course, public figures understand that their jobs come with the possibility that they will become a topic of discussion in the press. Yet the consequences of hateful and extremist rhetoric often move far beyond the realm of journalism.

What many people fail to realize is that behind the scenes, many public figures are constantly on the receiving end of abuse. In many instances, they become the subject of threats, along with their loved ones. No one deserves that, especially just because of their opinions or political positions.

And it's not just elected officials, celebrities and political figures that receive hateful commentary. Often, the men and women who actually work in the media do as well.

Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest owner of local news stations in America, decided to address through local television anchors the growing distrust of the media in America. Sinclair expressed its disapproval for the way that others in the media have pushed their personal biases in order to influence what their audiences think. All in all, it's a reasonable and very straightforward argument.

Yet the decision to stand up and fight for truthful storytelling has been met with more foulness than I ever could have imagined possible.

Both comedy and criticism have their appropriate places in America. Certainly, all individuals are entitled to their own opinions and perspectives.

As a public figure who is very open and unapologetic about my political beliefs, I personally have been on the receiving end of countless tirades and hateful rhetoric.

Not only can the remarks be offensive, but when they veer into the realm of physical harm and death threats, they become scary. Disagreeing with someone's beliefs is one thing, but attacking them and threatening lives is something else entirely.

For example, following the net neutrality decision, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his family were on the receiving end of threats and outrageous emails.

However, the First Amendment does not mean that you can use your own First Amendment rights to attack other people for using theirs, or simply for doing their jobs. I strongly believe in every American's right to exercise free speech and even to critique our elected officials. But there is a line that should not be crossed.

The White House is a symbol of leadership that represents each and every citizen of this country, regardless of their political views or affiliations. As such, it commands respect.

The public's responsibility should be to demand accountability from public servants and public figures, but that does not mean there should be free license to publicly disparage and demean people.

A polarized society is bad enough, but one where we dehumanize the other side and threaten each other's lives should never be acceptable in America. The people of the United States should take a deep breath, step back and find new ways to respectfully address our differences and disagree without employing violent or extremist rhetoric. If we are not careful, those dangerous words could provoke tragic actions.

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