The 24-hour whirlwind of criticism or praise for Michelle Wolf’s controversial roast at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner ended late Sunday with President Trump calling the comedian “filthy” and the association’s president expressing regret that Wolf’s monologue did not live up to the “spirit” of the dinner’s mission, which is “not to divide people.”
Both took some heat for their responses: Trump for being hypocritical, the association for being, in one critic’s words, “spineless,” or, as a Harvard Law School professor emeritus put it, “sickening.”
They were reacting to Wolf’s 19-minute routine Saturday night, which included what some perceived as vulgar comments about the appearance of women in the administration, particularly White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Wolf said Sanders “burns facts, and then she uses the ash to create a perfect smokey eye.” She also compared Sanders to the Aunt Lydia character in “The Handmaid’s Tale” — a character who indoctrinates the handmaids with sinister beliefs.
Early Monday morning, Trump, in another tweet, declared the dinner “DEAD as we know it. This was a total disaster and an embarrassment to our great Country and all that it stands for….”
Trump’s late-night tweet “filth” comment prompted a torrent of responses recalling some of Trump’s comments about women centering on their bodies or parts of their bodies.
There was a long list of examples.
He has called Megyn Kelly a “bimbo” and insinuated that he thought she must have been menstruating when she moderated a presidential debate.
On the Howard Stern show he has rated women’s looks on a 1 to 10 scale. He has respectively called Rosie O’Donnell and Arianna Huffington “disgusting” and “unattractive,” “both inside and out.”
And he has called MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” who was “bleeding badly from a face-lift.”
“Anyone pearl clutching over [Wolf’s] comments and demanding she apologize needs to demand that Trump apologize for calling women fat pigs, slobs, talking about their bodies,” comedian Kathy Griffin wrote in a widely circulated, 26-tweet thread defending Wolf’s monologue. “Not to mention, apologize for comments like ‘blood coming out of her …’ — but no they haven’t demanded that of him because they’re terrified of Trump. Instead, they go after a comic who is paid to make jokes.”
And, of course, there was the “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump bragged about how he could “do anything” to women.
The president, who did not attend the dinner for the second year in a row, said in a tweet that the event should either be discontinued or re-envisioned. He also alluded to the 2011 White House correspondents’ dinner, when he was mocked by comedian Seth Meyers at a time when Trump was leading the “birther” movement against President Barack Obama.
The dinner “was a failure last year, but this year was an embarrassment to everyone associated with it,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “The filthy ‘comedian’ totally bombed (couldn’t even deliver her lines-much like the Seth Meyers weak performance). Put Dinner to rest, or start over!”
High-profile journalists, including Brzezinski and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, were among those who criticized Wolf’s comments as unfairly targeting Sanders’s physical appearance. Haberman said it was “impressive” that Sanders “absorbed intense criticism of her physical appearance, her job performance and so forth” and didn’t walk out. Brzezinski, calling the comments “deplorable,” said the White House Correspondents’ Association should apologize to Sanders.
By Sunday night, it seemed the pileup of complaints about Wolf’s speech had weighed on the association’s leadership.
The association’s president, Margaret Talev, had previously said that Wolf’s “embrace” of the First Amendment and “her truth-to-power style make her a great friend to the WHCA.” But on Sunday night, she said, “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. Unfortunately, the entertainer’s monologue was not in the spirit of that mission.”
Others who saw Wolf’s jokes as an indictment of the administration and the character of its leadership — rather than quips about any woman’s appearance — were quick to criticize the association for seeming to renege on its commitment to freedom of speech.
Charlotte Clymer of the Human Rights Campaign put it this way on Twitter: “An organization dedicated to exercising the First Amendment holds an annual event that was created to celebrate the First Amendment and releases a statement admonishing a performer for criticizing the White House over their attacks on the First Amendment.”
“This statement is as cringeworthy as any joke ever told at a #WHCD,” MSNBC correspondent Jacob Soboroff said on Twitter. “The First Amendment is cool to celebrate and embrace, except when it’s not, I guess.”
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