Absent President Donald Trump, White House Correspondents’ Dinner Stirs Controversy

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Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire.

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81 Responses

  1. Avatar Joseph W Lloyd says:

    Good for Michelle Wolf. Seems like she made some powerful people uncomfortable. We need more of that!
    The whole event is anachronistic and useless, but if they keep hosting it, comedians should jump at the chance to get a few jabs in.
    The president, congress, and the rest of the DC cohort are generally cloistered and nearly impossible to engage with. One of my Senators and my congressman wont even hold an open discussion in the district. They are complete moral cowards, that wont even engage their critics. I wish Michelle Wolf could roast them all!Report

  2. Avatar Damon says:

    I am SHOCKED, SHOCKED that members of the admin, right leaning, allegedly right leaning, and all who do not share Michelle Wolf’s opinions, would be the butt of her jokes. /sarcasm off. What I’m not shocked about is that certain members of the journalistic crowd would make mild objections. After all, they gotta work with the Trump folks. They need to make just enough noise to give the appearance of complaining, all the while likely snickering their agreement behind closed doors.

    I’m not sure why any in the admin would bother showing up. I’d expect the event to be all “trump derangement syndrome” all night.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    It’s okay because Trump said bad things too.

    Here is a list of them.

    So, therefore, people complaining about this are hypocrites.

    Also people who complain about the media being biased need to read The Nation’s Eric Alterman’s “What Liberal Media?”.Report

    • All of these are true:
      Every Trump supporter/official going knew this is what would be said/tone of evening
      Wolf went too far in personal attacks, but if it had been funny would have gotten a pass
      The walk-out was probably pre-planned, Schlapp especially it comes off hypocritcal since he is as “washington elite” as it gets
      The Left is deluding themselves that they are going to out-vulgar or shame Trump to anyone outside their group
      The Right, especially Trump supporters and MAGA-land, is absolutely ate up with woe-is-me self-victimization to the point they seek this out
      A lot of journalist who try to be fair and professional are starting to notice and speakout/push back on all of the above.
      The pull quote in the post of this playing right into Trumps hands is accurate
      WHCA has no one to blame but themselves for turning what was once respectable event into the circus it is now.Report

      • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

        I will agree with you that the walk-outs were planned, they knew what they were getting into, etc. But “That @PressSec sat and absorbed intense criticism of her physical appearance, her job performance, and so forth, instead of walking out, on national television, was impressive,” [emph added] is more telling, to me at least, than all the other bits. That this comes from someone who has proclaimed “I am a feminist.” shows that the preaching of that idea cannot withstand the current tribalism and the vitriol therein.

        This appearance-shaming, for that is what it is, explains why Trump’s vulgarity is so divisive. Not unlike Louis CK and his desire for Sarah Palin to be raped* to many people outside the beltway, it shows that there is a difference between how the two groups are accepted and received. Deplorable indeed.

        *Yes, he apologized and she accepted.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Aaron David says:

          Marlow Stern makes a very interesting point:

          The White House purposely sent Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway to the #WHCD to then feign outrage at the jokes made at their expense, so… don’t fall for it

          Report

        • That first quote is especially important since its from Maggie Habernan, who as recently as a few days ago was derided by name by Trump on a Tweet. She is a frequent target of the President, despite knowing him for years and though Trump talks about not talking to her they go back to his NYC days and there are pics of them posing in Oval Office, so for what that’s worth.

          Appearance shaming is wrong. It’s one of my own rules for social media I don’t make fun of peoples looks. Sometimes I fail. SHS has been thrown look and weight jokes from day one. Whatabouting and hypocrisy doesn’t make it ok. It is wrong. But its still just words, not an assault on democracy and everyone should calm down. But they wont because outrage sells.Report

          • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

            I agree with re: words aren’t an assault on democracy. Rather, it’s the idea that feminism only applies to those who hold one set of politics, which as we have seen, aren’t universal. That is doing real damage to the idea that women are more than cultural accessories.Report

            • Avatar Maribou in reply to Aaron David says:

              @aaron-david Well, and this is sort of almost exactly what you said, but maybe a little different, but the choice to not appearance-shame should be target-independent. Like, feminists should not do that because the BEHAVIOR isn’t feminist, not because of who they are or aren’t talking about. Appearance-shaming just isn’t a feminist thing to do (IMNSHO, feminism isn’t one thing, etc etc.)Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Aaron David says:

          What criticisms were made of her physical appearance? I’ve looked and haven’t found them.Report

          • Avatar Maribou in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            @mike-schilling I will say I went looking, expecting to find them (because the media often *does* say really crude things about her appearance) and .. didn’t really?
            I mean
            1) comparison to actress playing Aunt Lydia in the handmaid’s tale (which is only a joke about appearance if one assumes that said actress is “ugly”, which… is kind of on the assumer.).
            2) something about splitting into softball teams that i thought was about her appearance but having listened to it in context, is actually about her voice/delivery style and something I’d expect to hear about any Press Sec, albeit perhaps with a different sport
            3) the “burns facts and turns them into the perfect smoky eye” thing which… I mean Sanders does do the perfect smoky eye IMO, so as an isolated joke I thought it was pretty funny and typical WHCD stuff. On the other hand she has also gotten a lot, a lot a lot a lot of actual shit about her makeup for years now, which is cruddy, appearance-shaming, and frankly sexist BS. And I can’t help but think Wolf was aware of said tradition and making her joke within said context, so I wasn’t a big fan. But that relies on a lot of context.

            Not really what I was expecting to find, all around…

            That said, for me, having a roast of the President is an important tradition to have. Presidents have a great deal of power and it’s important to undermine that power. Criticizing his minions, particularly spokesperson-not-much-actual-power minions instead, b/c they’re the ones who show up is… playing into the Admin’s hands at best, as @andrew-donaldson says above.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Aaron David says:

          Oh, good Lord. Schlapp the horribly offended was the one who told Michael Steele to “have some grace” when a CPAC speaker said “We elected Mike Steele as chairman because he was a Black guy, that was the wrong thing to do,”Report

  4. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    God damn it are right-wingers a bunch of thin-skinned pricks. President Trump has a forty year career making bigoted comments and actions. He mocked a physically disabled reporter during the election. He did this on camera! His audience lapped it up. Huckabee Sanders lies through her teeth every damn day.

    And a comedian takes a few jabs at them and then they run like elementary school kids to mommie talking about meanies and how unfair liberals are.

    There is a certain kind of argument that goes around the Internet and pundit land. This argument claims that we would not have Trump but for liberal coastal elites mocking the mores and aesthetics of the heartland. Another recent version was Conor F being really upset that liberals like to mock John McNaughton paintings.

    This is the Conor F that lived in super-hipster Venice Beach!!!

    I doubt this argument. I doubt there is anyone out there who says “I would be a complete supporter of Universal Healthcare but those liberals are so mean…”

    I think Matt Y said it best on twitter. There is a tension between the Conor F who calls for a free-wheeling First Amendment and chides the Atlantic for firing Williamson and the Conor F who breaks into hives because liberals like to make fun of dreadful John McNaughton paintings.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Would you say that the women who are offended are a crude term for female genitalia or are they covered under the umbrella of the crude term for male genitalia in the same way that Spanish just uses the male term even if there are 99 women and only one guy in the group?Report

      • Avatar J_A in reply to Jaybird says:

        @jaybird

        the same way that Spanish just uses the male term even if there are 99 women and only one guy in the group?

        In the name of native Spanish speakers everywhere, I definitely do not apologize for having a language that is so well regulated.Report

        • Avatar A Teacher in reply to J_A says:

          J_A: @Jaybird

          In the name of native Spanish speakers everywhere, I definitely do not apologize for having a language that is so well regulated.

          Yeah but you could also regulate it to the appearance of the group or the majority of the group.

          It always did stick my craw that if I’m the one man at the Women’s Right’s March, the group suddenly shifts into the masculine plural.

          On the other hand I love that Marriage (which is eternal) uses Ser where as Death (which is only until the Resurrection) uses Estar.Report

    • Avatar Maribou, Moderator in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      “God damn it are right-wingers a bunch of thin-skinned pricks.”

      @saul-degraw, this sentence is way too general to be okay. WAY too general to be okay. Please don’t.

      This site has very different standards of discourse (regardless of the side) than the WHCD.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Maribou, Moderator says:

        A few weeks ago it was all about how horrible liberals were for critiquing the Atlantic because of Kevin “Let’s hang all women who get abortions” Williamson because free speech. Now liberals are the bad people for making fun of McNaughton’s art and professional liar Huckabee Sanders.

        This is why it feels like a rigged game to us many people on the left. Very much heads I win and tails you lose.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Everybody is thin-skinned prick, dealing out punishment to those they think are in the wrong but not tolerating the most mild criticism from anybody else. I admit that the American right’s hypocrisy on this issue is particular rich though.Report

      • Avatar Maribou, Moderator in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @leeesq Well, generalizing it ALL the way to ‘everybody’ is certainly one way to get around it being an overly general insult. Still, I’m not impressed with the “American right-wingers are thin skinned pricks” line of argument generally, it’s way too encompassing of people on this board, and you need to stop the same as Saul does.

        Seriously people, not that hard to not fling insults around in ways that smack up against a large chunk of the community here. Particularly not insults that are the obnoxious kind that if someone says “hey, I’m not a (insult)” you get to say “see, you are or you wouldn’t be offended right now”. Those are a pet peeve of mine. Insult entrapment or something.Report

    • @saul-degraw

      There is a tension between the Conor F who calls for a free-wheeling First Amendment and chides the Atlantic for firing Williamson and the Conor F who breaks into hives because liberals like to make fun of dreadful John McNaughton paintings.

      Maybe there is a tension, but excepting his columns about 1968, the columns he writes criticizing Trump far outnumber the columns he writes that criticize liberals. (To be honest, though, I don’t know anything about the John McNaughton issue.)

      As for the “pricks” comment, two points:
      1. I don’t think people should use that language. It’s not “just as bad as” other words used for women (for example), but it’s not okay, either. One of the very few ways in which working with majority female coworkers puts me on the spot is when they casually talk about some people being “dicks.” They do so only rarely, but the few cases I’ve noticed it it was unnecessary and not relevant to things like harassment, which in my opinion would be more understandable. I will say none of that means the language should be banned, just that I believe people shouldn’t say that. I’ll also say that I realize I probably do enjoy a lot of male privilege, even in the majority female workplace.

      2. As I’m fond of saying, we’re all snowflakes now. Maybe if we can take up other people’s sincerely-held or sincerely-felt offense and use that as an opportunity to find common ground, we might be able to ratchet down some of the acrimony in our culture wars and perhaps make some advances in our political wars. Of course, “sincerely” is a loaded term, and as some have mentioned here, the walkouts seemed planned ahead of time, so maybe the offense wasn’t all that sincere to begin with. Also, I realize staking out common ground is only one tactic among many to get things done and may not always be the best approach.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to gabriel conroy says:

        The problem is that civility gets weaponized by the right. They fully cry foul when liberals strike back or get strident but also cheer on the D’Souza’s and Ingrahams.

        This is why Murc’s law exists. No one expects the right-wing to behave but they expect the left to. This looks like getting away with murder.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          The problem is that civility gets weaponized by the right.

          Saul, I’d like to introduce you to the concept of Political Correctness…Report

        • I assume what you wrote was a response to

          Maybe if we can take up other people’s sincerely-held or sincerely-felt offense and use that as an opportunity to find common ground, we might be able to ratchet down some of the acrimony in our culture wars and perhaps make some advances in our political wars.

          and not a response to

          Of course, “sincerely” is a loaded term, and as some have mentioned here, the walkouts seemed planned ahead of time, so maybe the offense wasn’t all that sincere to begin with. Also, I realize staking out common ground is only one tactic among many to get things done and may not always be the best approach.

          But I get what you’re saying that the shibboleth of “civility” a good number of people on the right indulge in is certainly an issue.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to gabriel conroy says:

            If “people on the left” impose strict civility standards on discourse which is otherwise viewed as normal by a large part of the population, the left has effectively *created* the group referred to as “people on the right”.Report

            • Maybe yes and no? It seems you (and maybe I?) are playing a kind of blame game or a tu quoque game? Maybe I’m misinterpreting you, and if so, please let me know.

              Granting that a “blame game” or “tu quoque game” might not be what you intended, I’ll riff on the idea anyway and say those games have limited usefulness. And it may be helpful to point out ways in which others or one’s interlocutors cry “civility” when they criticize others for doing so. However, I’m inclined to suggest the main point should be where we go from here and how we can start with where people are.

              I personally think civility–or better yet, “decency”*–are important and should be fostered, at least in some environments some of the time. As someone who’s not as likely as others to be victimized in our present era, I need to remember that.

              *But darned if I can usefully define either.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to gabriel conroy says:

                Yes. Perceptive. I think you’re right.

                In the above comment I’m not *intending* to blame anyone for anything but instead merely noting that accusations of how the right uses civility as a sword are a bit hypocritical when coming from the left. But since I’m pretty opposed to PCism in general I probably am in fact blaming the left for creating a bed it doesn’t want to lie in.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Stillwater says:

                What do you mean by PC? Because there always seems to be a huge disconnect here.

                Does anti-PC mean Trump’s mocking of a disabled reporter was okay? Does it mean just accepting the use of derogatory language?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                Because there always seems to be a huge disconnect here.

                Yes, there is. The left uses PC as a weapon but thinks they’re using it as a shield and criticizes the right for using it as a weapon and not a shield when the right actually IS, by their own admission, using it as a weapon.

                It’s like the left is criticizing the right for not playing by the PC rules or something…Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          When I read about pre-modern societies, whether from the 19th century or the middle ages, or antiquity, the structures intended to create justice or human flourishing, like courts and churches, often failed in their mission and inflicted as much suffering as they alleviated.

          That is, the tools used to enforce social norms were weaponized by those in power to game the system. The unwed mother was shamed, but the powerful father shielded.Report

          • Avatar Zac Black in reply to Chip Daniels says:

            Chip Daniels: When I read about pre-modern societies, whether from the 19th century or the middle ages, or antiquity, the structures intended to create justice or human flourishing, like courts and churches, often failed in their mission and inflicted as much suffering as they alleviated.

            That is, the tools used to enforce social norms were weaponized by those in power to game the system. The unwed mother was shamed, but the powerful father shielded.

            Has it ever not been that way?Report

  5. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    There is a part of me that wants to lament the coarsening of our civic dialog, and to mourn for the restoration of the era of bipartisanship and polite manners in our political leaders…and then I remember history.

    For most of our history American politics wasn’t much different than it is now. Political arguments were always ugly brawls of curses and insults. I remember in college browsing microfilm copies of the LA Times from the 1880s and being shocked as how much they sounded like the National Enquirer.Report

  6. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    I can see from the preceding comments that last night’s WHCD changed a lot of people’s minds.Report

  7. Avatar George Turner says:

    I remember when the comedians would viciously savage Obama and compare Michelle to a cow.

    Oh wait. I don’t remember that at all.Report

  8. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    From that Politico article:

    “The spirit of the event had always been jokes that singe but don’t burn…” NBC News White House correspondent Kelly O’Donnell wrote on Twitter.

    This is what I find weird, this protective shielding of the administration from harsh criticism, this time under the cover of the “tradition of comity”.

    It fits in with the idea that the social structures of manners and mores are as easily weaponized to inflict suffering at they are to prevent it.

    It also supports the image of the Beltway corespondents as those who are detached from the consequences of politics, for whom it is all some sort of game.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Tone policing is very much a thing that the right has weapon used. Partially because they know that there are a lot of center-left types who sincerely believe in comity and think we can get back to civil politics. Not because this is a game but they are largely spared the damage of right-wing policiesReport

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      There was a great French movie called Ridicule on the elaborate code of manners at Versailles. It depicts how they were weaponozed by the Court aristocracy against anybody outside their small, privileged, and charmed circle,

      Civility, decency, and manners make life more pleasant but they were always used by the inside yo keep those on the outside excluded. The Nouveau Riche, Jews, and everybody else seemed socially unacceptable were seen as gouache because of alleged bad manners. Not getting the most minute forms of etiquette could have serious consequences. The powerful also used it to suppress the powerless.Report

  9. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Can anyone quote specific lines from Wolf’s performance and explain how they are uniquely offensive or inappropriate?Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

      Here’s a rundown. I don’t make the lesbian association, but do make the others. Female softball players image as butch, unfeminine, and unattractive. It’s a common enough perception that sitcoms joke about it.

      The two violations for me are “Don’t go after people’s innate looks or weight” and “Don’t be sexist” and the softball part breaks those two in my view. Nothing else bothered me. Added to that, comedians are going to cross the lines sometimes. They’re also relatively minor transgressions, which interesting comedians are always going to make, so it’s not too big of a deal.Report

  10. Avatar pillsy says:

    Members of a political movement that makes Donald Trump its leader and then the President of the United States have zero standing to complain about civility.Report

    • Avatar Maribou in reply to pillsy says:

      @pillsy I don’t necessarily disagree with you on that.

      But what about the rest of us?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Maribou says:

        We’ll find some reason to make sure that the rest of you don’t have standing either.Report

      • Avatar pillsy in reply to Maribou says:

        I’m not sure why the rest of us should care about being civil to someone who tells insulting lies to us, at taxpayer expense, and on behalf of a comprehensively terrible President and White House.Report

        • Avatar Maribou in reply to pillsy says:

          I care because being civil is, to me, not about the person one is being civil *to*, but about the community that one chooses to be part of and the standards *of that community*. I mean, on a scale of 1 to 100, I care about the feminism or not, civility or not, etc of mocking Sarah Huckabee Sanders in relation to her perfect smokey eye about a …. 6? (Note this doesn’t mean I care about being *nice* to her in some hospitable sense, just that there are things I think should be offlimits, perhaps *more* offlimits among enemies than among friends, and it bothers me when it turns out “my” side is no more willing to agree on those things than the other one is.)

          But within that 6 points I’d say 4 of it is “our principles matter because they are true, not because of who we apply them to” (something I care about a whole lot on its own), 1 of it is long-term strategery, and 1 of it is about her as an individual. If that much.

          Still, I wasn’t asking whether the rest of us should care. Given that you were talking about standing, I was asking whether you think the rest of us have standing to care. Because from my point of view, I do have standing to care (a little), even as I acknowledge that it’s a 6/100 for me and there about eleventy-jillion things at 80 or higher. If you don’t think I have standing to care, I’d be interested in you unpacking (not so much asserting) why not.Report

          • Avatar pillsy in reply to Maribou says:

            I think you have standing to care just as much as you would care about this sort of joke if it were directed at a member of your in-group as it is towards SHS, in the sense that, sure, “I believe these things are true and good and right so want to adhere to them,” is a standard you’re entitled to have, and unlike the people who’ve embraced Donald Trump, I have no reason to doubt your sincerity.

            But this, to my mind, edges right up to the line and maybe crosses it:

            Note this doesn’t mean I care about being *nice* to her in some hospitable sense, just that there are things I think should be offlimits, perhaps *more* offlimits among enemies than among friends, and it bothers me when it turns out “my” side is no more willing to agree on those things than the other one is.

            To the extent that you’re arguing for being extra scrupulous about SHS because she’s an enemy, I don’t know if you do have standing, because maybe that’s no longer a question of whether our principles are true, but, well, who we’re applying them to.

            That might leave you standing to only object at a strength 3 or 4/100, rather than the full 6/100. If you don’t think my reading is ridiculously wrong.Report

            • Avatar Maribou in reply to pillsy says:

              @pillsy It’s not that your reading is *ridiculously* wrong, but I do think it’s wrong, or at least not what I intended.

              All I meant by that it is that when the “things” in question have to do with speech and conversation, there is a broad assortment of insults that a friend may easily give the most affectionate reading to / let slide when they come from another friend, and that relaxes the standard a little from neutral, whereas with enemies, the tendency to relax the standard is (IMO, and esp when we are talking about my own behavior, but to some degree what I expect from the team I’m on) coming from a different and less good place. It’s not, coming from the philosophical place, that the enemy should be treated better, but that I/we should mistrust ourselves more wrt an enemy than a friend, if that makes more sense to you? Maybe it’s clearer with an example.

              For example, I have a friend who teases me about being genderfluid/nonbinary/trans on the regular, usually in oblique ways. (And no, I’m not talking about Jaybird :D). This is his way of communicating that he remembers and is comfortable with it, also that I should remember he likes to poke at people; I know that’s what he’s doing on both counts, and nothing that he says *to me* bothers me. I know what his intentions are and I trust him. I don’t really care when he does it, or really I find it slightly annoying and slightly lovely of him and they cancel each other out. ** If he were doing it in public in a context where there were people who were personally affected, not his friends, I’d make him quit, but one on one, I really don’t care how he teases me because I 100 percent appreciate the context and the sibling-esque relationship that we already have established.

              Whereas were my friend to start mocking someone he considered an enemy on the same topic, or were someone to mock me out of enmity on the same topic, I’d be much quicker to care about it.

              ** I find that mockery between friends usually has this context to it, at least if they’re really friends *and* one person isn’t nursing unspoken pain about the other’s speech.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Maribou says:

                For me it distills pretty simply: If you’re making fun of a bad person for being X, then you’re making fun of X almost every time. While there is some disagreement as to whether or not MW was making fun of SHS’s physical dimensions, I believe she was and I am not okay with that irrespective of my views of SHS because it signals that it’s okay to make fun of that. It’s not about SHS.

                But this is why I’m not at all upset about the rest of it. Making fun of her for lying? Well, it’s okay to make fun of liars. The same applies to being an unpleasant person, provided that it’s clear we’re not talking about RBF or drawing from physical dimensions.

                It does leave me a little bit torn, as far as this goes. Because I do agree with the Republicans a bit. But only a bit, and on that bit they’re acting pretty disingenuously. (I’ve been making a point of retweeting cases of conservatives being aghast at Friday but having done the same thing, or worse, with regard to HRC or otherwise in the recent past.) But in the process of that, I don’t want to lose sight of where I do draw the line, as far as criticisms go.Report

              • Avatar Maribou in reply to Will Truman says:

                @will-truman Yeah.

                You and I read the jokes differently – I don’t believe she was making fun of her dimensions, I do think she was making fun of her femme makeup in a context where everybody and their dog has been making fun of her makeup – but our opinions about what is and isn’t okay are pretty similar, I think.Report

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