The president of the White House Correspondents’ Association released a statement criticizing dinner headliner Michelle Wolf that has some journalists wondering whether the group actually backs its own press-freedom mission.
As Wolf’s comedy set at Saturday night’s White House Correspondents’ dinner continues to incite condemnation for its unvarnished criticism of Trump administration officials, association president Margaret Talev said in a statement to members that Wolf’s performance was not “unifying” and “not in the spirit” of the group’s mission.
“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,” Talev said. “Unfortunately, the entertainer’s monologue was not in the spirit of that mission.”
The annual dinner is “billed as a celebration of freedom of the press and the First Amendment” and usually features a comedian, hired to roast Washington figures from both sides of the aisle.
Many in the media complained that Talev’s statement contradicts press freedom, and pointed out that Wolf’s performance took equal-opportunity jabs at White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, among others. They also noted that Talev’s disassociation from the comedian she said she picked herself for the performance ― who arguably did what she was hired to do ― questions the whole point of the White House Correspondents’ dinner:
This is why I think they shouldn’t even have it. Inviting someone to speak freely and then kneecapping her like this is the worst possible outcome. https://t.co/MXtTRZWFmt
— Linda Holmes (@lindaholmes) April 30, 2018
Every year, I see @whca attendees tweeting about how the dinner is about celebrating the First Amendment. That is sanctimonious enough. But this statement reveals anew what nonsense that is. This is performative rubbish, and I hope that next year’s comedian ridicules them for it. https://t.co/tmGcEAP0gm
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) April 30, 2018
Journalism is about holding power accountable by empowering the people with information. Get the fuck out of here with this “unifying civility” bull shit. https://t.co/w2U8idDTaw
— Lauren Duca (@laurenduca) April 30, 2018
The most upsetting thing Michelle Wolf said last night was the reminder that Flint, Michigan still doesn’t have clean water.
Imagine if the DC press corps & political chattering class had spent today performatively upset about *that* https://t.co/YiPOykpyLG
— Wesley (@WesleyLowery) April 30, 2018
This horrendous statement should be a good call for a recommitment to not playing footsie with this administration—instead valuing reporters who do deep dives on its members and their effect on us, then asking fearless questions, relationships be damned.https://t.co/zxQRcgGrXk
— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) April 30, 2018
Uh… This statement is as cringeworthy as any joke ever told at a #WHCD.
The First Amendment is cool to celebrate and embrace, except when it’s not, I guess.
No wonder Americans don’t trust the media. https://t.co/cwAn87P7nJ
— Jacob Soboroff (@jacobsoboroff) April 30, 2018
I’m not a member, though many of my colleagues are, but this saddens me. It’s collaborating with a dangerous regime. It’s shocking. https://t.co/xznk40WpCM
— Joan Walsh (@joanwalsh) April 30, 2018
The WHCA just lost all credibility it might have had with this statement. This White House has done and called folks all types of names and they released this statement about some jokes? They joke is on them. Trump wins again. https://t.co/knyX765dCc
— deray (@deray) April 30, 2018
Talev, in an interview on Sunday with CNN’s Brian Stelter, hammered the dinner’s goal of press unity, and called it a “night of free speech.” She said her “only regret” was that “those 15 minutes are now defining four hours of what was really a wonderful, unifying night.” Talev said she hired Wolf because the comedian was “provocative” and had a message to deliver.