Much has already been written by many about the monologue delivered by comedienne Michelle Wolf during the so-called entertainment portion of the White House Correspondents’ Association annual awards dinner. Most of the criticisms levied against her have been spot on, particularly the observation she just wasn’t funny (thus breaking a cardinal rule of comedy) so there’s no need to belabor them further. Suffice it to say she is not the first and will not be the last, if the event continues in anything resembling its current form, to have bombed at the dinner.
The notoriety she’s received will help boost her upcoming series when it burst out of the gate on Netflix later this spring however that, and all the comments directed at what she had to say, are misdirection. As is the WHCA leaderships apology for her performance. Anyone who watched on C-SPAN or saw of her performance on social media can clearly hear, plenty of the folks in the room were laughing. The audience’s reaction to her attacks on Trump and the people who work for him, which ranged from the ridiculous to the even more ridiculous – there was nothing sublime about them – was a rather embarrassing display of confirmation bias regarding what much of America believes about the people who cover the president.
The dinner was not, as some are calling it now, a “victory for Trump.” He got hammered by the elites on both coasts and there’s nothing pleasant about it. That the New York and Washington and California-based representatives of main stream media and their hangers on have a bias against the president is not news; it’s been apparent since he announced he was running. Most of the people who voted for him have sensed it all along, meaning the hatred and disgust expressed about him in the New York Times and on MSNBC may have won him more votes than it cost him.
What’s important here, what the reaction to Wolf’s remarks is the way the receptivity of the press to her hateful observations calls into question the ability of the elites in the national press corps to be objective in its reporting.
The coverage of Trump was almost uniformly negative during the campaign and has continued in the same tone into his presidency. Some outlets are more balanced, a few even lean hard in his direction but almost none of those are the agenda setters most rational people think of when they think of what constitutes the main stream media. They’re niche publications, outlets branded conservative by the rest of the industry, or places where news and entertainment mix for the purposes of generating an audience can match the power of the big networks and major newspapers where the serious reporters all seem to think he’s a joke.
A press corps that cannot be objective is worthless. They were in the tank for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, hated Reagan and George W. Bush, and weren’t quite sure what to do with Clinton: They liked his policies but once they couldn’t cover for him anymore and realized his antics were ratings gold the dye was cast.
They may not be wrong about Trump, but the conclusion they’ve reached is largely subjective, based on how they feel about him rather than his policies. To serve the public interest such criticisms must be backed up by facts, the good as well as the bad. Trump is unconventional and has shaken the capital city’s dominant institutions to their core which, to be candid, is what those who voted for him sent him to Washington to do. The fact news writers – as opposed to those who engage in the opinion business - think him wrong or worse does not give them license to distort the facts and more than they give him license – and this has been one of the principal criticisms by the press of Trump spokesmen Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Saunders – to present what White House adviser Kellyanne Conway once referred to as “alternative facts.”
The collective reaction to Wolf’s monologue – and the fact no reporter got up and walked out or isn’t talking about it if they did – is a condemnation of the press corps and an example of the lack of objectivity that is driving readers away from print journalism and cutting the cord on cable in droves. Before someone in the White House briefing room next gets up a head of steam over a perceived falsehood, perhaps they better look in the mirror before opening their mouth.