Michelle Wolf’s performance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner continues to divide members of the media, and a stark generational divide has begun to emerge.
On Twitter and in stories and commentaries, older journalists largely denounced the comedian for her cutting and sometimes raunchy jokes, particularly those about White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, while younger reporters said even caustic punchlines should be fair game in the era of President Donald Trump.
“The plus-40-year-old audience female journalists are defending Sanders perhaps because its the PC thing to do while trying to show the press really isn’t hostile to the president and his administration,” Joe Concha, a media reporter for The Hill, told the TheWrap Monday, “while the younger women in the business don’t care because they know their younger readers don’t care about how the American public views the press.”
Wolf, a “Daily Show” alum set to launch her own weekly Netflix series, has come under heavy attack for her routine on Saturday.
“Michelle Wolf did exactly what she set out to do via narrow-casting: She went personal and directly at a person her future Netflix core audience loathes,” Concha, noting that the strategy had worked well for late-night comics like Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and Trevor Noah on their own shows.
Representing the older, more established voices in the dinner debate coverage were veterans like “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski and MSNBC anchor Andrea Mitchel — both of whom demanded an apology on behalf of Sanders.
Watching a wife and mother be humiliated on national television for her looks is deplorable. 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.
— Mika Brzezinski (@morningmika) April 29, 2018
Apology is owed to @PressSec and others grossly insulted ny Michelle Wolf at White House Correspondents Assoc dinner which started with uplifting heartfelt speech by @margarettalev – comedian was worst since Imus insulted Clinton’s
— Andrea Mitchell (@mitchellreports) April 29, 2018
“Unfortunately, I don’t think we advanced the cause of journalism tonight,” said the New York Times’ Peter Baker shortly after the event wrapped.
Unfortunately, I don't think we advanced the cause of journalism tonight.
— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) April 29, 2018
On younger journalists, such as HuffPost’s Ashley Feinberg and the Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng took considerably less umbrage.
“Every tweet I see from journalists coming to the defense of Sarah Huckabee Sanders makes more and more adamant that the only way to fix what’s broken is by replacing the entire press corps with Michelle Wolf,” Feinberg thundered on Twitter.
Every tweet I see from journalists coming to the defense of Sarah Huckabee Sanders makes more and more adamant that the only way to fix what's broken is by replacing the entire press corps with Michelle Wolf
— Ashley Feinberg (@ashleyfeinberg) April 29, 2018
A hopefully final takeaway: if last night bothered you please god never set foot in a halfway decent comedy club
— Asawin Suebsaeng (@swin24) April 29, 2018
“This is great,” said David Klion, a noted Twitter liberal who goes by the moniker “unemployed Jewish guy.” “I’m embarrassed for anyone in the audience who didn’t like.”
I didn’t even know who @michelleisawolf was but she’s great, this is great, I’m embarrassed for anyone in the audience who didn’t like this
— David Klion (@DavidKlion) April 29, 2018
Dinner attendees — overwhelming made up of the established journalists in the older camp — reacted coolly to Wolf’s performance.
In addition to the most bruising segment focusing on Sanders’ propensity for misstatements and personal appearance, complete with a comparison to the severe Aunt Lydia from “The Handmaiden’s Tale,” Wolf’s jokes about abortion and CNN star Jake Tapper’s orgasm also largely fell flat.
In his widely read newsletter, Axios chief Mike Allen summed up the old guard view, calling the moment a “big, embarrassing win” for the president.
Media hands Trump big, embarrassing win https://t.co/Hv2EltZ9i8
— Axios (@axios) April 29, 2018
“The bottom line,” he wrote, “Watch for big debate whether to end the dinner as we know it, and whether some news organizations announce they will no longer attend.”
White House Correspondents’ Association president Margaret Talev largely threw Wolf under the bus in response to the outrage voiced by both Trump and members of the association.
In a statement Sunday evening, she said Wolf’s monologue had “unfortunately” not been “in the spirit” of the night’s mission to honor the free press and the First Amendment.