The backlash against the comedic stylings of Michelle Wolf at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner has included calls from all over the ideological spectrum to discontinue the annual “roast.” These calls in turn have prompted defenders of the tradition and of Wolf’s monologue to circle the wagons.
White House Correspondents Association President Margaret Talev, who initially excused Wolf’s over-the-top remarks, saying that the association doesn’t “vet the talent,” released a statement on Sunday conceding that the monologue was not “in the spirit” of the association’s mission, which is to “offer a unifying message about our commitment to a vigorous free press while honoring civility.” (Here’s a newsflash for Margaret Talev: If previous years’ monologues were the gold standard for honoring that commitment, the group never had that far to fall.)
But not everyone has been in agreement that Wolf crossed a line Saturday. Many, including Wolf herself, argue that critics misunderstood the nature of the “lighthearted ribbing”:
Why are you guys making this about Sarah’s looks? I said she burns facts and uses the ash to create a *perfect* smoky eye. I complimented her eye makeup and her ingenuity of materials. https://t.co/slII9TYdYx
— Michelle Wolf (@michelleisawolf) April 29, 2018
Other protectors of the flame have predictable identities:
Dear "the media" – @michelleisawolf was FUNNY. Hire a juggler next year.
— Jimmy Kimmel (@jimmykimmel) April 29, 2018
A) Ok I have some thoughts on @michelleisawolf's act and the reaction to it from members of the press and other DC insiders. For the record, I was in the room last night. @michelleisawolf's set was great. She was hilarious and confident.
— Kathy Griffin (@kathygriffin) April 29, 2018
But one commentator took a quasi-cerebral approach to her defense of the annual dinner and of Wolf’s remarks. That was The Washington Post’s Molly Roberts, who dashed off a column on Sunday titled “Michelle Wolf got it just right.”
Following up on that claim is an ambitious undertaking. So how did Roberts fare with the assignment? She justified the sanctity of Wolf’s “jokes” by validating the claim — made twice in the space of 700-odd words — that Sarah Sanders is a bald-faced liar.
Wolf faced particular criticism for (besides all that sex stuff) her satire of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who apparently was a profile in courage for sitting still with pursed lips while someone told jokes about her — “to her face!” These commentators spun the strange narrative that Wolf went after Sanders for her appearance, when in reality Wolf’s barbs centered on the press secretary’s falsehood-filled performance on the White House podium. [Emphasis added]
The word apparently in the first sentence signals a general dislike for the press secretary, but what evidence does Roberts offer in support of the accusation that Sanders lies? Absolutely none.
Two paragraphs later she makes the same charge, this time in a paragraph railing out at her fourth-estate colleagues for not sharing her pique, again without offering a single example of Sanders’s perfidy:
… [C]ountless journalists rallied behind Sanders, the same woman who spends her days lying to them.
Roberts also invokes the argument that even if Wolf did attack Sanders’s appearance, doing so was fair game because Donald Trump set the bar low in the first place:
Callous attacks on women for their looks, even after Saturday night, still belong to the president … not to the comedian who skewered his cohorts.
Roberts ultimately ends up committing the offense she sets out to defend. Her column is nothing more than partisan name-calling and petulant venting over an administration she doesn’t like. That is precisely what the White House Correspondents’ Dinner has been since around 1960. Maybe the association should keep Roberts in mind for its next keynote speaker — should there be a need for one.