In the eyes of D.C. media elites, jokes about murderous drone strikes and a war that killed over a million Iraqis fall well within the boundaries of civility, but humor that targets the powerful is completely unacceptable.
That was the message many journalists and critics took from the White House Correspondents' Association's (WHCA) "pathetic" statement Sunday night apologizing for the performance of comedian Michelle Wolf, who pilloried the incompetence of Democrats, railed against the lies of the Trump administration, and spoke uncomfortable truths about the corporate media's complicity in the president's ascent to power.
"Pathetic to see WHCA cave in and attack the comedian they hired to roast an administration led by a guy who bragged about sexual assault, talked about shooting Muslims with bullets dipped in pig blood, and attacked the free press on a daily basis."
According to WHCA—which positions itself as a defender of free speech—Wolf's 20-minute routine amounted to an intolerable breach of civil discourse, which apparently prohibits criticism that might offend those in positions of immense power and influence, like White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
"Last night's program was meant to offer a unifying message about our common commitment to a vigorous and free press while honoring civility, great reporting, and scholarship winners, not to divide people," the WHCA said in a statement posted to Twitter Sunday night, following a full day of constant outrage and hand-wringing about Wolf's performance from prominent access journalists. "Unfortunately, the entertainer's monologue was not in the spirit of that mission."
WHCA's statement was immediately decried as an "embarrassment" that demonstrates the organization is more interested in facilitating "chumminess" between the White House and the media than a "vigorous and free press."
Pathetic to see @WHCA cave in and attack the comedian they hired to roast an administration led by a guy who bragged about sexual assault, talked about shooting Muslims with bullets dipped in pig blood and undermined and attacked the free press on a daily basis. #MichelleWolf https://t.co/LQGupHCzLo
— Christian Christensen (@ChrChristensen) April 30, 2018
You were straight-up bullied by the Trump Administration and you folded immediately. How dare you claim to represent a free press, you pathetic humorless cowards https://t.co/oRq84hYApw
— David Klion (@DavidKlion) April 30, 2018
To many in the US media, the worst sins aren't bombing and killing people or embracing policies that cause mass suffering. Those are often virtures ("tonight, Trump [by bombing] became our President"). The worst sin remains: breaching civility protocols to protect DC elites.
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) April 30, 2018
While Wolf's attacks on the barrage of lies Sanders unleashes on an almost daily basis were viewed as scandalous by many of those being lied to, perhaps the most scathing component of Wolf's performance was her attack on the corporate media outlets, who she accused of using Trump to bolster their bottom lines.
"He couldn't sell steaks or vodka or water or college or ties or Eric. But he has helped you," Wolf said. "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."
"It's not a coincidence that the two speeches that most offended the delicate D.C. press corps—Colbert's in 2006 and Michelle Wolf's—contained scathing and wholly accurate mockery of the press itself," The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald noted in a tweet on Monday. "Their anger at mean insults towards politicians is also real but secondary."