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Correspondents group criticizes comedian Michelle Wolf for remarks at annual dinner

Wolf's blistering jokes eviscerated the Trump administration and the media in Washington, and many weren't happy about it.

by Alex Johnson and Phil McCausland /  / Updated 
Image: Comedian Michelle Wolf attends the Celebration After the White House Correspondents' Dinner hosted by Netflix's The Break with Michelle Wolf on April 28, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Comedian Michelle Wolf at a celebration after the White House Correspondents' Dinner hosted by Netflix's 'The Break with Michelle Wolf' in Washington on Saturday.Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images

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The head of the White House Correspondents' Association criticized comedian Michelle Wolf on Sunday night after a day of blistering reaction to Wolf's jokes at the group's annual dinner.

Margaret Talev, senior White House correspondent for Bloomberg News and president of the correspondents' organization, earlier appeared to defend Wolf, who for 20 minutes delivered harsh and stinging remarks about Democrats, Republicans, President Donald Trump's adult children, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

C-SPAN radio stopped broadcasting her performance more than halfway through Saturday night and replayed an episode of "Washington Journal," instead. It said it was concerned about the speech's "compatibility with the FCC's indecency guidelines."

Appearing Sunday morning on CNN, where she is also a political analyst, Talev called Wolf "a talented comedian who had a message to deliver, and she did deliver a message." Her only regret, she said, was that Wolf's routine was "now defining four hours of what was a really wonderful, unifying night."

But by Sunday night, the drumbeat of criticism had grown so loud that Talev released a follow-up statement saying Wolf — whose name she didn't repeat — undercut the point of the dinner.

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Talev said she had heard from members "expressing dismay with the entertainer's monologue and concerns about how it reflects on our mission."

"Last night's program was meant to offer a unifying message about our common commitment to a vigorous and free press while honoring civility, great reporting and scholarship winners, not to divide people," she said. "Unfortunately, the entertainer's monologue was not in the spirit of that mission."

Trump, for his part, ripped the program, tweeting Monday morning that "the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is DEAD as we know it."

"This was a total disaster and an embarrassment to our great Country and all that it stands for," he wrote. "FAKE NEWS is alive and well and beautifully represented on Saturday night!"

Wolf, a former correspondent on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" who has a coming late-night show on Netflix, pulled no punches as she compared Sanders to a ruthless figure in the dystopian show "The Handmaid's Tale." She added that Sanders "burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye," referring to her makeup.

New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman, who was honored at the dinner, criticized the jokes Wolf made on Twitter, particularly those aimed at Huckabee.

Wolf was quick to respond, pointing out that none of her jokes was aimed at Huckabee's appearance.

Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer called the dinner "a disgrace" on Twitter, to which Wolf responded with "Thank you!"

Another of Wolf's jokes that earned the ire of those in attendance focused on Vice President Mike Pence and his opposition to abortion.

"He thinks abortion is murder," Wolf said. "Which, first of all, don't knock it until you try it. And when you do try it, really knock it, you know, you gotta get that baby out of there. You can groan all you want, I know a lot of you are very anti-abortion, you know, unless it’s the one you got for your secret mistress. It’s fun how values can waver.”

Matt Schlapp, the head of Conservative Political Action Conference, and his wife, Mercedes Schlapp, a Trump administration official, both said they walked out of the White House Correspondent's dinner. He said they were particularly incensed by the abortion joke.

"Enough of elites mocking all of us," Matt Schlapp wrote on Twitter, a comment which in turn also drew criticism.

Talev's comments Sunday night were markedly different from those made by Mark Smith, then the president of the correspondents' association, after comedian Stephen Colbert performed at the dinner in 2006 and mocked President George W. Bush and cable news pundits.

"There was nothing he said where I would have leapt up to say, 'Stop,'" Smith said at the time. "I thought he was very funny."

By contrast, in 1996, Terry Murphy, then the chairman of the group, signed a letter of apology to President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary Clinton, after radio host Don Imus' performance made direct references to Clinton's reported extramarital affairs.

NBC News news analyst Howard Fineman disagreed with the criticism of Wolf. He pointed out on Twitter that Wolf's "blunt, crude, pitiless" act "torched EVERYONE," including Democrats, Stormy Daniels and the media. He added that Wolf was invited by the White House Correspondents' Association and didn't aim to be popular with all viewers.

"It's not her job to behave," he said, noting that she likely hoped to promote her Netflix show.

Others were also unconvinced by the backlash that occurred on social media after the event.

Actor and comedian Kumail Nanjiani responded to Haberman's initial tweet. "They call you liars," he said, referring to the Trump administration's belittling of some journalists. "They call Muslims murderers. They support white supremacists. But someone calls them out on what they do, [and] suddenly they're heroes for not walking out." He appeared to be referring to the plaudits Sanders received for sitting through the jokes directed at her.

The actor said Haberman unfollowed the comedian on Twitter when he pushed her to explain her criticism.

Although Trump skipped the event for the second year in a row to attend a rally in Washington, Michigan, he also weighed in on Twitter.

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