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Journalism Was This Year’s Punchline

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

The annual White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) Dinner took place last weekend and for the third year in a row President Trump was a no-show. This year, the WHCA countered with its own break with tradition. No comedian keynote address.

Just like the NFL kneeling controversy before it, Trump made the WHCA blink.

If you saw reports on the event, you likely read how stern and solemn it was this year. Our self-important betters, dressed in their finery regaled themselves with stories of their significance and shared harrowing tales of the danger they face just because they’re journalists in 2019.

When I say Trump made them blink, I mean he made them blow up their own event.

This wasn’t supposed to be the heavy-handed and dramatic affair it became. It’s been christened “the nerd prom” for years because of the air-kissy, see-and-be-seen vibe. Media elite and a few D-list celebrities gather to watch a comedian mock the president (as long as he’s a Republican), drink champagne, pat one another on the back, and head home feeling great about their beltway status.

But Trump has always smartly refused to participate. Can you blame him? Why would you subject yourself to sitting at a dais as a partisan “comedian” hurls insults your way about your looks, your motives, your intellect, etc?

Don’t give me that “he needs to get a thicker skin” business. He receives a daily fire hydrant’s blast worth of negative hits every day on the job. He has to show up at their party to be their piñata, too?

Left wing outpost thinks this event is of the utmost importance. Not because of journalism. They believe the president is obligated to submit to scorn and mockery by hackneyed partisans because of “truth to power” or something.

In their write-up on the great importance of comics at this event, Salon mentioned a history of barbs directed at past presidents. Noticeably absent was any reference to any joke ever told about Barak Obama. As I’ve written over the years comedians and writers’ have routinely held, “there’s simply nothing funny about Obama.” He was always too important for jokes. So much for “truth to power.”

Trump is different, they say. He must submit to their mockery or he’s not brave, or something.

Of course, the thing all of us who aren't blind with hatred for Donald Trump understand is that everyone else in that room is. When he doesn’t show up, they get more hateful. This is Trump’s ultimate chess victory in these stand-offs.

The WHCA dinner took as nasty and personal a tone as it’s ever taken with Michelle Wolf as their featured performer last year. She took shots at White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders’ looks, as well as adviser Kellyanne Conway – both of whom were in attendance.

The public and even many in the media who aren’t jackals turned against the WHCA saying they’d gone too far in allowing such spite masked as jokes in their program. The damage was done, however. Lost in the negative press about the press (how’s that for irony) was their whole point of the evening: Donald Trump’s the bad guy! Not them!

You see, the country is supposed to watch and hear about this event and internalize how important the men and the women in that room are to the rest of us. We’re to listen in horror at what an ogre Donald Trump is in his treatment of members of the media. We’re to pity and foist praise and thanks on the heroes of Washington media for their bravery.

But that all gets lost when your hatred for the man you cover shows itself proudly in your evening’s star performer.

The WHCA could not make the same mistake. This year, they would attempt to solemnly lecture the five people who actually cared to watch it – mostly just those in the room – on the dangers they face just doing their jobs in the Trump era.

The left freaked out in response. Samantha Bee railed and ranted that the WHCA had somehow bowed to Trump and caved on speaking truth by not inviting someone like her to make crude anatomy jokes about the administration. Salon and others actually accused them of “accommodating him (Trump) more than they should.”

The truth is, they weren’t accommodating Trump. They were trying to repair and avoid further damaging proof that they simply can’t hide their hatred for a man they’re supposed to dispassionately cover. They’ve lost all credibility.

On my podcast this week I interviewed Sharyl Attkisson, host of “Full Measure” Sundays on Sinclair TV. I asked her if she believed journalism and journalists were in danger because of Donald Trump.

“I think we have brought this on ourselves,” Attkisson explained. “To pretend that it’s his (Trump’s) fault that we’ve made so many mistakes, that we’ve taken it upon ourselves to attack him in an overt way, to suspend our normal journalism rules and ethics rules because Donald Trump is a unique character that requires us to not follow them so we can take him on. To me that’s the antithesis of what journalism is about.”

She continued, “The notion that we make a lot of mistakes, we have a lot of bad reporting – he calls it out and attacks us verbally – but that’s his fault rather than our fault? I don’t buy that.”

Neither do I.

The White House Correspondents Association didn’t need a comedian this year. They’re already the joke.

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