In January of this year Gallup released a poll showing 84 percent of Americans thinking the press is very important to the health of our democracy, but 43 percent saying journalists were doing a very poor job of supporting it.
Flash forward to last night’s White House Correspondents Association dinner where comedian Michelle Wolf berated the Trump administration with crude, mean-spirited jokes (video below).
The perception that Wolf’s routine went too far is hardly one unique to conservatives:
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.
— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) April 29, 2018
Couldn’t agree more. So much important and amazing journalism this year — that should be the focus, when truth matters and is needed more than ever. It was an embarrassment in the room and surely to the audience at home. https://t.co/vhbnG6tn55
— Jeff Zeleny (@jeffzeleny) April 29, 2018
The primary defense of Wolf’s “jokes” seems to be that Trump deserves it because he, too, is crude and mean-spirited.
And he is. Trump’s critics can point to a laundry list of terrible things he’s said and done.
But is that really what Trump’s critics aspire to? To be as awful in their rhetoric as the President they hate can be?
I’m not here to judge Wolf’s routine. It didn’t seem particularly funny to me, but that’s a subjective thing. In another context, at a different sort of event, it would hardly be noteworthy. Just another unoriginal diatribe from the cacophony of entertainers who hate Republicans.
Your mileage may vary.
The problem is that Wolf was standing on the stage of what is probably the most visible event put on by the journalism industry in America. She was invited to be there by people who want us to believe that they’re not elitist. That they’re not hopelessly biased along ideological lines and reporting from a bubble from which their view of the public they strive to serve is distorted.
Wolf’s routine reinforced those views in many Americans, including this one.
This from AP reporter Meg Kinnard is spot-on accurate:
If the #WHCD dinner did anything tonight, it made the chasm between journalists and those who don't trust us, even wider. And those of us based in the red states who work hard every day to prove our objectivity will have to deal with it.
— Meg Kinnard (@MegKinnardAP) April 29, 2018
It’s not just the national press corps who should be worried about this. Fairly or unfairly, Americans tend to see the journalism industry as monolithic. They see little distinction between the White House press corps and the reporters covering local beats in their communities. As Kinnard notes, this sort of thing hurts local reporters tasked earning the trust of the people Wolf and her cohorts hate.
That’s not good for any of us.