The Real Problem With Michelle Wolf's Jokes Isn't What She Said

I must confess that I have the hardest time making myself care about the White House Correspondents Association dinner and the controversy surrounding comedienne Michelle Wolf’s comments about Sarah Sanders.


There is a major backlash from the Right over her comments toward Sanders. Many in the media have criticized the monologue. Several liberal activists have shrugged it off, claiming Wolf did not, in fact, attack Sanders over her looks.

Now, to be clear, I’m not saying there is nothing wrong with attacking Sanders over her looks, but I am also not saying it’s something that should be condemned so excessively. The fact of the matter is that comedy, in all its forms, starts with a certain level of meanness toward the target. The art of “roasting,” in particular, intrigues us because it allows us, through the comedian presenting it, to vent our own insults on people with whom we may take issue.

So, it’s not like what Wolf did was abnormal. It was quite normal, given what her role was meant to be – the role of all comics who take that stage is supposed to be.

However, the WHCA released a statement on Sunday that Wolf’s monologue “was not in the spirit of the mission” of their association.

What is noticeably missing, given the outrage, is any sort of apology from the WHCA for allowing it to happen.

There was some backlash from the Right over this, as many do feel that Wolf’s comments took it too far. And yet, many of those people, as Jim Jamitis pointed out yesterday in his stellar column, were okay with or even laughed at President Donald Trump’s own comments about people he made fun of or insulted on his way to the White House.


The entire point of Wolf’s monologue was not too dissimilar from the overall point of journalism at that level – to challenge those in power. The real “scandal” here, if there is one, is that there was a mysterious eight-year gap in holding those in power accountable.

From 2008-2016, jokes about President Barack Obama and his administration weren’t nonexistent, but they were few and far between. Many jokes were told regarding his opposition – the very same people in power now – but few actually held him accountable. In both journalism and in comedy, the jokes during the Obama Era were pointed at the party out of power because, in many ways, it would have been problematic to makes such jokes about the head of the party in power, Barack Obama.

We can debate day and night about the “appropriateness” of what Wolf said during her monologue. We can discuss whether or not she bombed. However, she did her job. She told jokes that made fun of the people in power. She made jokes about Sanders and Trump, but also referenced a lot of the bigger names in media, too. That was her job.

However, the WHCA and their speakers haven’t really done their job since 2008. It’s never really okay to be okay with the people in power, and it is a real shame that the media by and large abdicated this role with rare exception from 2008 to 2016.


I’ll never be overly mad that the media covers a certain story. They can pursue what they want. I’ll never be mad at a comedian for telling a certain joke. That’s their job.

But, it is okay to be mad that there is a double-standard. That’s where a lot of the frustration comes in. A few in the media seemed to have realized it this weekend, but many still won’t, believing that, even when they win elections and win power, the Republicans are the evil counter-culture they must stand up to.

If journalism ever wants to know why it’s struggling on the national level, they should really rethink that mentality.


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