On Saturday night, “comedian” Michelle Wolf skewered President Donald Trump and his staff at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Her attacks on White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders sparked particular outrage. Even many prominent figures of the liberal media argued that she went too far. Even so, many have defended her speech.
Some said Wolf “won” in the struggle with President Trump for the headlines. Others insisted that she did her job, despite the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) later denouncing her roast as “not in the spirit” of the group’s mission.
Without further ado, here are four of the liberal columnists who defended Wolf’s roast.
1. The New York Times: James Poniewozik.
James Poniewozik, chief television critic for The New York Times, defended Wolf, saying she did her job and suggesting that she could use a Sarah Huckabee Sanders of her own.
“Was Ms. Wolf’s set vicious? Absolutely. (She called Ivanka Trump, for instance, ‘about as helpful to women as an empty box of tampons.’) But was it gratuitous? Not at all,” Poniewozik wrote. “It drove mercilessly toward its themes: that this administration lies; that its female members are covering for a sexist president; and that journalists have enabled it all with breathless coverage.”
“Those are points of view, and not ones that anyone needs to agree with. But comedy’s job is to have a point of view, to pick a hill to die on and defend it with furiously thrown pies,” the Times writer added. “Comedy is not a Page A1 news analysis. It is not its job to call the other side for comment or throw in a ‘to be sure’ paragraph for balance.”
Interestingly, Poniewozik defended Wolf’s comparison of Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the “rigid enforcer for a misogynist state” from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Aunt Lydia. Some interpreted this attack as a slander on Sanders’s looks, and Poniewozik rightly noted that that would not be fair to “the regal Ann Dowd.” Even so, he defended the comparison because it wasn’t about her looks but about her role. This does not make the comparison more defensible — it makes it far worse.
Even from a liberal perspective, Sanders may lie, but she isn’t encouraging women to stone other women for stepping out of line in a misogynist state. A jab against someone’s looks is petty and crude, but this kind of comparison is just horrendous, stoking fear and even arguably violence against its object.
Even so, Poniewozik said Wolf’s routine “was ultimately about defending the mission of the White House press: sticking up for the truth.” The Times writer added, “If only Ms. Wolf had a Sarah Huckabee Sanders of her own.”
2. USA TODAY: Erik Brady.
USA TODAY sports reporter Erik Brady emphatically declared that Michelle Wolf “won” the weekend.
“You may have heard Michelle Wolf bombed at the White House Correspondents Dinner. That’s what a lot of people are saying, even many of the journalists who invited her,” Brady started. “They’re wrong. The former high jumper at William & Mary cleared the comedic bar — soared over it, in fact.”
He noted that “the comedian told jokes on Saturday night in Washington, D.C., as the president spoke in Washington, Mich. And now here we are on Monday — and guess whose act is still the talk of the town? (Hint: Not the president’s.)”
Brady argued that Wolf “beat him at his own game — and it’s not easy to out-outrage the Outrager-in-Chief.”
The USA TODAY writer argued that Wolf was funny, and she had no requirement as a comedian to “represent qualities of unity and civility.”
“Saturday night, according to her critics, Wolf broke the correspondents’ dinner. Don’t believe them. According to other comedians — who are, on one level, her real audience — she broke up her peers,” Brady declared.
Wolf certainly attracted a great deal of attention, but at a time when voters are increasingly afraid of political violence, a “comedian” telling them that the White House is enforcing a mysogynistic rapist state is not just a faux pas.
3. Variety: Brian Steinberg.
Brian Steinberg, Variety‘s senior TV editor, insisted that Michelle Wolf did her job extremely well.
“The White House Correspondents’ Association didn’t like what Michelle Wolf had to say at its annual awards dinner this past weekend, but there’s one thing everyone who watched the event can agree upon: She earned her paycheck,” Steinberg wrote. “Basically, it’s the same sort of stuff you hear out of this event every April.”
As for the WHCA’s statement that Wolf’s remarks were “not in the spirit” of the agency, “That statement is almost as funny as any of the many jokes Wolf let loose with at the gala.”
He ended his analysis by arguing that “the WHCA needs the comedians it hires every year. It clearly craves the notoriety they bring. Otherwise, its event would be televised by the same number of cable networks that broadcast the industry’s annual Pulitzer Prizes or Loeb Awards. Which is to say, none.”
Steinberg has a point, and he even argued that Wolf’s offensive remarks proved par for the course. He noted that “Wanda Sykes in 2009 took on Rush Limbaugh, comparing him to Osama bin Laden. ‘I think maybe Rush Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker,’ noted Sykes. ‘But he was just so strung out on OxyContin he missed his flight.'”
4. CNN: Dean Obeidallah.
Former attorney and CNN opinion contributor Dean Obeidallah argued that Wolf was the big winner from the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
“Despite what Donald Trump and some others on the right may think, the big winner from Saturday’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner was comedian Michelle Wolf,” he wrote. “Her performance was not just funny — it’s still grabbing headlines and will make this comedian, who is on the verge of stardom, even better known.”
Obeidallah acknowledged that “some of her material did make people uncomfortable,” but he argued that “political comedy, at its best, shouldn’t always be comfortable. It should make you laugh while also challenging your views.”
The CNN contributor argued that Wolf’s jokes about Roy Moore and about “calling a Nazi a white nationalist” should make people cringe and that they challenge political views.
Really? Most of Wolf’s jokes seemed more calculated to confirm leftist biases against Trump. Yes, she did mock the media’s breathless coverage of Trump, but “Handmaid’s Tale” comparisons don’t push anyone to reconsider their views, they confirm the very worst conspiracies about the president’s social agenda.
Noting President Trump’s attack on Wolf the next day, Obeidallah declared, “Trump is truly redefining what it means to be petty and thin-skinned. What other president of the United States would actually take to Twitter to compare himself to an up and coming comedian?!”
Naturally, the CNN contributor mocked the outrage over Wolf. “The way I see it, a person in the Trump administration saying something was ‘disrespectful’ while defending a man who bragged on the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape about grabbing women by the pu**y, has demonized Muslims and Mexicans and mocked a disabled reporter is truly hilarious,” he wrote.
“I guess if Wolf had just called her performance ‘locker room talk,’ the Trump supporters like Bolton would give her a pass,” Obeidallah quipped.
The CNN contributor did make at least one good point, however. “Despite the backlash, there was not a peep from Trump actually standing up for the person he put in the comedic line of fire. But that’s Trump. It’s always about him,” he wrote. The president should have defended Sanders, and it does seem his ego might be to blame.
Even so, these columnists may be right, tragically so. Wolf is likely to become an anti-Trump celebrity, and her upcoming Netflix show will likely pick up traction from all this outrage.