The reviews are in: President Donald Trump gave a thumbs-down Sunday to the comedian who roasted his chief spokeswoman at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, offending present and past members of his administration, including one who walked out in protest.
The organization’s leader said she regretted that Michelle Wolf’s routine may end up defining an evening that was designed to rally around journalism.
WHCA President Margaret Talev said she has “heard from members expressing dismay with the entertainer’s monologue and concerns about how it reflects on our mission.” She said she will work with the incoming president of the group and take comments from members on their views “on the format of the dinner going forward.”
Trump joined in the criticism.
“Everyone is talking about the fact that the White House Correspondents Dinner was a very big, boring bust…the so-called comedian really ‘bombed,’” Trump tweeted Sunday.
The president, who regularly lobs sharp attacks at the news media, including individual news organizations and reporters, declined to attend the journalism awards dinner for the second consecutive year. He instead held a campaign rally in Michigan.
Wolf is known as a contributor on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah.” But some of her jokes, particularly a series of barbs about White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders as Sanders sat just feet away, seemed to spark the most outrage.
Sean Spicer, who preceded Sanders at the White House lectern, tweeted after dinner that the night “was a disgrace.”
Others, including Ed Henry, chief national correspondent for Fox News and a former association president, and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski, called on the association to apologize to Sanders. Brzezinski has been the subject of personal attacks by Trump. Henry also called on Wolf to apologize.
Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, tweeted that he and his wife, Mercedes Schlapp, director of strategic communications at the White House, walked out of the dinner. “Enough of elites mocking all of us,” he said.
Talev, Bloomberg News’ senior White House correspondent, said she didn’t want a dinner celebrating the constitutional right to free speech to be overshadowed by the ensuing uproar over Wolf’s jokes.
“My only regret is that to some extent those 15 minutes are now defining four hours of what was a really wonderful unifying night and I don’t want the cause of unity to be undercut,” Talev said Sunday on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”
Talev said she spoke to Sanders after Wolf’s routine and “I told her that I knew that this was a big decision whether or not to attend the dinner, whether to sit at the head table and that I really appreciated her being there.”
“I thought it sent an important message about the role of government and the press and being able to communicate with one another and work together,” Talev added.
No Trump administration officials attended the dinner last year after Trump decided to skip it. Many were in the audience Saturday night, however, including counsellor Kellyanne Conway, herself a target of Wolf, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Sanders sat at the head table with association board members.
Talev said that, by tradition, the association does not review the comedian’s monologue before it is delivered.
“We don’t censor it. We don’t even see it,” she said.
Wolf tweeted “thank you” to Spicer.
As he did last year, Trump flew to a Republican-friendly district to rally supporters in an attempt to counter the dinner. He assured the audience in Washington Township, Michigan, a state he won in 2016, that he’d rather be there than at “that phoney Washington White House Correspondents’ Dinner.”
Wolf’s act, which also included abortion jokes, had some in the audience laughing. Others sat in stony silence.
Among Wolf’s less off-colour one-liners:
—”Just a reminder to everyone, I’m here to make jokes, I have no agenda, I’m not trying to get anything accomplished, so everyone that’s here from Congress you should feel right at home.”
—”It is kinda crazy that the Trump campaign was in contact with Russia when the Hillary campaign wasn’t even in contact with Michigan.”
—”He wants to give teachers guns, and I support that because then they can sell them for things they need like supplies.”
Wolf closed by saying, “Flint still doesn’t have clean water,” a reference to the Michigan city where lead-tainted tap water flowed into homes for 18 months before a disaster was declared in 2015.
The state recently decided to end distribution of free bottled water in Flint, saying the tap water was now as “good or better” than in many communities.
Darlene Superville, The Associated Press