The reaction to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner wasn’t simply hypocritical. It also highlighted the latest line of attack in Washington: crying Wolfby Adam Aiken / May 3, 2018 / Leave a comment
The hoo-ha that resulted from Michelle Wolf’s performance at the weekend’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner did not only encapsulate the hatred that has become all-consuming in US politics. It also shone the spotlight on the latest weapon in the battle between left and right: accusation of distastefulness.
That Wolf’s speech should have provoked the ire of some on the right was no surprise. But alongside those who were genuinely upset at what they saw as an unnecessary, cruel and personal attack on White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders were others who have now taken on the role of victim—even though they have been guilty of enabling similar behaviour themselves.
Ed Henry, of Fox News, called Wolf “vile”, but his criticism had some valid context: as Henry pointed out, he had deliberately veered away from picking a vehemently anti-Barack Obama comedian back when he had been in charge of the White House Correspondents’ Association.
Journalists not known as being pro-Trump also came out against Wolf and in support of Sanders. Maggie Haberman, of the New York Times, laid into the comedian, even though Haberman herself had recently been the butt of an insulting tweet by Donald Trump. Mika Brzezinski, of NBC, referenced her own experience of being on the end of sexist abuse from Trump as she stood up for Sanders.
But alongside these principled critics were an army of hypocrites. We’ve seen political discourse plunge new depths in the US over the past couple of years—much due to the childish petulance of Trump, who has been aided and abetted by his friends. And it was some of those staunch friends of the president who hit the airwaves after the Correspondents’ Dinner, pretending to be terribly upset.
One of them was Kellyanne Conway, who herself was the target of some of Wolf’s act. Conway, who is “special counsellor to the president,” has been by Trump’s side for years, defending him time and time again despite his most appalling behaviour.
That behaviour has included him attacking women for their looks. Women like Megyn Kelly, Rosie O’Donnell and Mika Brzezinski have been targeted simply because Trump hasn’t liked their reporting. At a time when many men in the public eye are rethinking how they treat women, Trump has gone the other way and has weaponised offensive and sexist behaviour against his political opponents—and Conway has defended him..
The president has been dragged into lawsuits with porn stars, calling them liars. Conway has stood by him.
He was famously caught on mic bragging about how he sexually assaults women. Conway deflected questions on it.
And Trump has responded to credible historical accusations of sexual abuse by mocking the looks of some of the women who have made those claims. Conway has tolerated that.
Now, though, the words of a comedian who dishes the dirt the other way have prompted Conway to find a moral compass. She told Fox News after the dinner that the “attack” on her and Sanders had been an attack on all women. The hypocrisy was startling.
Breitbart News, meanwhile, took great delight in reporting that there’d been blowback against the organisers of the dinner. This is the same Breitbart that vehemently backed Roy Moore in a recent Senate election race, despite widely-reported allegations of being a child molester. (Moore denies the accusations.)
Sanders herself, to her credit, has keep shtum since the dinner. Perhaps she realises that it’s best to let her friends do the talking on her behalf.
But perhaps she also realises that having called those who accused the president of sexual assault liars, she’s in no position to take on the role of the poor, downtrodden woman who is just the latest victim of the elite sexists in Washington.
You make your bed, you lie in it.
None of this is a defence of Wolf. Few seem to think her appearance was a tour de force. Whatever part of the political spectrum you’re on, this wasn’t a speech full of side-splitting jokes. There’s some debate over whether the most controversial lines in her speech were aimed at Sanders’ behaviour or her looks. Either way, at best Wolf’s speech was simply crude, and a long way short of the good-natured ribbing that previous hosts have dished out.
But the point that many of Wolf’s critics—including the president himself—miss is this: the reason most of those at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner were on the opposite end of the spectrum from Trump is not because they have decided to put themselves there but because Trump deliberately positioned himself at the other end.
It’s almost his raison d’être: attacking the establishment was the main selling point that got him elected. All Wolf did was lower herself to Trump’s level and hurl some of his abuse back at his camp.
All this hand-wringing from the president’s supporters is hypocrisy of the highest order. It’s no surprise that the right and the left are finding more and more things to use against their opponents in this wildly partisan atmosphere.
But this weaponising of victimhood shows just how childish the administration and its opponents have become. It really is playground stuff.