Jokes about WMDs and drones are cool, but Michelle Wolf's media attack too much for DC elites

Danielle Ryan
Danielle Ryan is an Irish freelance journalist. Having lived and worked in the US, Germany and Russia, she is currently based in Budapest, Hungary. Her work has been featured by Salon, The Nation, Rethinking Russia, Russia Direct, teleSUR, The BRICS Post and others. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleRyanJ, check out her Facebook page, or visit her website: danielle-ryan.com
Jokes about WMDs and drones are cool, but Michelle Wolf's media attack too much for DC elites
What is ‘too far’ when it comes to political comedy? Mocking the media for ripping off Trump coverage, or joking about how (oops!) you didn’t find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, after all?

That was a joke made by former president George W. Bush at the 2004 White House Correspondents' Dinner. Then there was the time former president Barack Obama joked that he could kill the Jonas Brothers with predator drones if they tried to date his teenage daughters — because, you know, killing people with predator drones is obviously hilarious.

Bush and Obama took heat for those jokes at the time, but the backlash was minimal in comparison to the slating Michelle Wolf has gotten over the past three days since she took the stage at the WHCD.

Wolf burned down the house at the Washington Hilton during the annual gathering, which assembles a who’s who of journalists, government officials and celebrities. She was caustic. She was irreverent. She sent the left and right into fits of blind rage. Wolf was the comedian the WHCD didn't know it needed.

Her scathing monologue was designed to let no one off the hook. Republicans, Democrats, the media — no one escaped the night unscathed and Wolf is facing a massive backlash for jokes that were supposedly ‘mean-spirited’ and went ‘too far.’

Now, to be fair, many are defending and applauding Wolf for having the guts to eviscerate everyone in the room without fear or favor. But there are also a lot of crybabies among the DC media and political elite.

CNN anchor Jake Tapper made sure to look suitably offended and as uncomfortable as possible when Wolf made a crude joke about Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, lest anyone assume the very serious journalist finds jokes about powerful people funny.

MSNBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell was so offended by a joke comparing White House press secretary Sarah Sanders to super villain Aunt Lydia in the hit TV series The Handmaid’s Tale, that she actually tweeted on Sanders’ behalf demanding an apology from Wolf. MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski, Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, and Politico's Kyle Cheney, were some of the other journalists that expressed shock and disbelief at Wolf's jokes.

But America's best known journalists were not simply offended by a comedian mocking a woman who they believe lies to them from a podium every single day about issues of serious consequence. That may have been a cover for what they were most maddened by: her wholly justified attacks on the journalists sitting in front of her.

Mocking the 24-hour news cycle, Wolf complained that journalists “could be covering everything” but instead are focused squarely on three topics: “Trump, Russia and Hillary.” To the CNN journalists in the room, she quipped: “You guys love breaking news — and you did it, you broke it.”

Then came the real zinger.

“You guys are obsessed with Trump. Did you used to date him? Because you pretend like you hate him, but I think you love him. I think what no one in this room wants to admit is that Trump has helped all of you,” she cracked. “He has helped you. He’s helped you sell your papers and your books and your TV. You helped create this monster, and now you’re profiting off of him.”

Ouch.

As I wrote on Twitter after Wolf’s performance, if there is one thing I learned living in Washington D.C., it’s that too many journalists in that bubble spend a lot of their social time ingratiating themselves to power and feeling very pleased with themselves for doing so. They will tell you it’s all about getting close to sources, but it’s not. They see the powerful as their friends, not their foes.

On more than one occasion, I met established journalists in DC who boasted about their friendships with and closeness to the Clintons, Kennedys, Bushes etc. in clear attempts to impress younger reporters.

There is a myth that DC journalists can simultaneously hobnob with White House officials and also do their jobs properly. But it’s impossible. You can’t be a journalist whose job it is to hold powerful people to account, when you’re hanging out and knocking back drinks with those powerful people at Bullfeathers after work.

Comedian Jimmy Dore put it well in an interview with journalist Glenn Greenwald about this very topic recently: “It’s why in wartime, they don’t let you fraternize with the enemy. Because you can’t look at a guy’s kids and then shoot him.” In other words, if journalists are going to do their jobs properly, they need to be suitably detached from the people they are covering.

But, as I said, what hurt them most of all was not Wolf’s attacks on their powerful friends. It was her attacks on the media itself. She hit them where it hurt. She embarrassed and ridiculed them. She called them out in a way few with a platform have been able to do.

Responding to the backlash, the White House Correspondents’ Association quickly threw Wolf under the bus, releasing a statement regretting that Wolf’s performance was “not in the spirit” of the event. Understandable to a degree, given that the event is usually more of an opportunity for self-congratulation than public ridicule.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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