It’s been one hell of a few years for journalists trying to make a living in the United States. It’s bad enough that we have a president breathing down our necks every second of every day on Twitter and at rallies, we also have to deal with his fanatics that live and breath his every word.
Just look at the thing’s journalists have gone through. First, you have the president hammer the media over the two-year probe into his administration. Before that, we had to deal with the White House attempt to revoke Jim Acosta’s press badge over “assaulting” an “intern,” for trying to grab a microphone from him.
Of course, we also had journalists like Jamal Khashoggi and his death at the hands of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Salman and President Trump siding with him. Can you imagine? Instead of condemning the murder of one of our own people, he sided with the crown prince even though we had intelligence that linked him to the murder.
Some of us have targets on our back for the job we have.
It isn’t just those on the right that we have to deal with. It seems like every month we get complaints from those on the right trying to police what we write about and how we write it. Like when the New York Times reported about a dispute the Sanders campaign had with a liberal think tank, there was an ethics issue when interviewing the mother of whom the story was about. There’s a crazy amount of pressure put on journalists to not only get stories right but to write about the right stories from the right angle.
It’s like dealing with a drunk back seat driver that’s racist while also trying to deal with a crying baby that’s never impressed with your driving skills while also trying to navigate a dark road covered in debris. It’s a lot to handle.
That’s where the White House Correspondents Dinner (WHCD) on April 27, comes in. A celebration of not only the men and women who cover the White House day in and day out, but a celebration of freedom of speech and the press that gives them the opportunity to do so. A night where journalists can come together and toast to the fact that the speak truth to power.
The fourth estate.
If it were a few years ago, that’s exactly what you would have gotten. That is until everyone got their panties in a bunch last year over jokes by guest comedian Michelle Wolf.
All in all, Wolf’s set was pretty solid. It was a cocktail of fluid, edgy and eye-opening comedy; she had the crowd on the edge of their seats the whole time and spoke truth to power, exactly what the dinner celebrates. She threw jabs at almost every White House official who attended that night – especially Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
“I actually really like Sarah. I think she’s very resourceful. Like she burns facts, and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.”\
“Every time Sarah steps up to the podium I get excited, because I’m not really sure what we’re going to get. You know, a press briefing, a bunch of lies or divided into softball teams. ‘It’s shirts and skins, and this time don’t be such a little b—-, Jim Acosta!’
“And of course, we have Sarah Huckabee Sanders. We are graced with Sarah’s presence tonight. I have to say I’m a little star-struck. I love you as Aunt Lydia in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ Mike Pence, if you haven’t seen it, you would love it.”
It was a set that was plagued for weeks after with criticism from the right. Sean Spicer called the dinner a disgrace, President Trump noted that the “so called comedian really bombed,” on twitter, even the National Review chimed in ‘Being mean isn’t funny. It’s mean,’ (Uhm… look who you voted for as president).
“Watching a wife and mother be humiliated on national television for her looks is deplorable,” wrote Mika. “I have experienced insults about my appearance from the president. All women have a duty to unite when these attacks happen and the WHCA owes Sarah an apology.”
“That the press secretary sat and absorbed intense criticism of her physical appearance, her job performance, and so forth, instead of walking out, on national television, was impressive,” wrote Maggie Haberman.
The fallout after felt like Jordan Peele wrote and directed it for his version of the Twilight Zone. People were shocked that a comedian, invited to come on and make jokes about the White House and the press corps, made jokes about all of those subjects. Judd Apatow summed it up perfectly:
“It’s like going to a Billy Joel concert and being shocked he played ‘Piano Man.”
It eventually led the WHCA to pull the plug on any comedians performing at the event in the future. To think, an event that let Stephen Colbert make fun of President Bush, jump started Hasan Minaj’s comedy career and let Seth Meyers make fun of Donald Trump so much that he ran for president, would stop the tradition altogether. For what? Cause a comedian went on stage and did what all the other comics before her did?
Hasan Minhaj literally called someone apart of the president’s team a Nazi.
He spoke truth to power.
Which begs the question, can you celebrate the freedom of press and speech when you limit who comes to speak at the dinner? It baffles me, even more so when you look into why the WHCA was started in the first place.
Formed in January 1914 the association was a response to another president that threatened freedom of the press, President Wilson when he threatened to stop doing presidential news conferences because of what was being published. The organization was formed to prevent Wilson from bending the media to his will and to expand the transparency of the White House.
By removing the prospect of a comedian like Michelle Wolf from coming on and roasting the dais and those in attendance, you let the president win. You bend to his will and let him take credit for something he had no say in. It directly contradicts what the organization stood for when it was formed – freedom of press, freedom of speech.
Instead of having a comedian speak this year, the association will feature Ron Chernow, a renowned biographer will speak. While I do believe that Chernow will do an amazing job at the dinner, I feel like it misses the point of having a night to celebrate the spirit of journalism. Reporters shouldn’t have someone to speak about the importance of accuracy and facts, they already know about that. As a political columnist that mostly covers the White House, I would rather have a comedian make fun of the craziness that has happened this year.
Not someone that reaffirms what I do is important.
In the end the WHCD turned into the opposite of what it was meant to do. How can you celebrate freedom of speech while also suppress it? By removing comedians from the equation, especially political comedians like Michelle Wolff and Hasan Minaj, you’re showing that you’re no better than the president. Any way you slice it, it’s blocking freedom of speech and in my mind spitting in its face.
You let him win.
If you’re like me and want to celebrate journalists that cover the White House while also make fun of it in the process then by all means, watch Not the Correspondents Dinner on Saturday instead. It was created by Samantha Bee last year as a joke, but she brought it back because she too was angered at the cowardice that the WHCD showed in the face of criticism. It’s going to be what the WHCD should have been, a celebration of the first amendment and everything that makes this country and our jobs great.
The only difference is that Bee has a spine.
Oh yeah: Flint still doesn’t have clean water.