If I were White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders after comedian Michelle Wolf’s smoldering roast of her at the White House Correspondents Dinner, I would try to have a sense of humor. Maybe I would even crack a joke about comedy being as hard to nail as the right smoky eye. But there’s scant evidence of a sense of humor in any quarters, as yesterday the host of the routine, the White House Correspondents Association—the press’ supposed institutional watchdog—went so far as to apologize to the very person working overtime to debase truth in journalism.
For the past year and a half, Trump’s White House has berated, mocked, skewered, incited violence against, and openly lied to and about reporters. The chief executive likes only slavish, slobbering coverage of his administration. Aided by Sanders, he deems the rest fake news, a habit that has eroded any semblance of healthy political discourse. His surrogates, including Chief Outrage Officer Kellyanne Conway, boast “alternative facts” and have made it clear that they will go hard, strong and unremitting against an independent, skeptical media. This communications team has no dedication to truth and informing the public. They distort in service to the boss.
Yet the trade association representing reporters just kneecapped itself in a series of fumbles. It’s so peak D.C. it would be laughable if it wasn’t so emblematic of our reality.
But in all seriousness, does the WHCA have Stockholm Syndrome? Are they learning to love their torturers? Or is their apology just insiders protecting other insiders in a wink-wink quid-pro-quo?
According to the outrage factory—and now the WHCA—comedy should have light touch, flatter and tickle. Bullshit. We are way past that. We need Lenny Bruce, not Jay Leno. Comedy is supposed to make comfortable people uncomfortable. That’s the point. Ergo, Wolf, who matched her subjects in extremity and intensity. She was rough and raunchy and her targets, rough and raunchy themselves, richly deserved it. Sanders and Conway lie. So does their boss. Apologizing for Wolf’s routine dug up the ugly truth that some who cover the White House still can’t bring themselves to call Trump’s team liars. It’s a comeuppance that’s long overdue but speaks to a far bigger inconsistency: Why is the WHCA rushing to protect Sanders and Conway, who dedicate their days to destroying a free press?
Sanders and Conway aren’t innocent bystanders any more than they are honest characters. They are manipulative culture warriors seasoned in battle who can take it as much and as readily as they dish it out. Sanders is not a weak blossom new to the rodeo. She doesn’t need to be defended as a wife, mother, spokeswoman or amateur makeup artist. She’s as hard-ass as they come, and that’s why she made it to the top of her field. Newsflash: she is not afraid of the press and by apologizing, the WCHA signaled that they are very much so afraid of her. I can’t think of a worse dynamic for news gathering.
Sanders will be just fine. It’s the rest of us who need humor and a tough free press that I’m worried about.