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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 3:19 am | Fair 48º


Jamie Stiehm: Michelle Wolf Burns Down the White House Correspondents Dinner

Hard to be in the ballroom with Michelle Wolf. If I was Cinderella, she was the big bad wolf who burned the house down. I listened, frozen at first, to her stand-up at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, an April tradition.

That was her stated aim: “Burn it to the ground.” Right, thanks. So glad you could come. You burned Washington better than the British with a vicious onslaught of “comedy.”

The scene was still smoking when we left. What a debacle. Usually you leave, refreshed at the comedian’s clever, witty satire. But there’s nothing sparkling about P words Wolf threw around — “porn” and worse. Just to break the ice.

If that’s where #MeToo feminism is going, over a jagged cliff, count me out. What happened that Saturday night was not what the suffragettes went to jail for, I could almost swear. Wolf did a lot of swearing, too, which is why I will not quote her monologue at length. You almost have to see it to believe its savageness. Shocking. Poor Jake.

President Donald Trump was not there. He was gloating at an uproarious Michigan rally. Usually, the president is there at the table to take the brunt of the barbs. I hate to say, Trump was shrewd to stay away. He outsmarted the media he so loves to hate. From Michigan, he sent a few arrows. What a “phony” dinner. His jeers later got worse on Twitter. Always playing the outsider.

This was, after all, the gathering of the establishment — the powers that be in political journalism. (Me, only an ink-stained wretch with a closet full of rags.) So for once, Trump was right. The dinner made the news media look bad.

Mostly we are outsiders and skeptics by nature, but we sure looked like insiders in black-tie and gowns. On the way out, a woman said to me that the optics confirm what Trump says about the mainstream media.

Another first: I felt sorry for White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, who took hits from 10 yards away from the podium. Seated next to me was a handsome young man who works for her; when I turned around, he was gone. Sanders got called a liar in so many ways it wasn’t funny. Her looks were the least of it.

I thought young Wolf could call out former FBI director James Comey for his one-man, one-vote vision of democracy. Perhaps she’d needle the news media about its tragic chorus on Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 presidential cycle. Heck, take down Alexander Hamilton for the Electoral College.

Any number in Trump’s inner circle are ripe for ridicule. Need I count names, Ronny Jackson? Marine generals rule, as a rule. (The only Army general, H.R. McMaster, had to leave the building.) Yet Wolf left the Trump crowd untouched. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg also got a pass. Russian online election spying didn’t make the cut.

In Trump’s absence, Wolf devoured the press. She accused us of loving Trump. She declared we “helped create this monster” for profit. Ouch.

There’s a grain of truth in Wolf’s mean ramble. I saw Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, at a pre-dinner reception. As head of NBC Entertainment, we know what he did for democracy. He made shady mogul Trump a reality show star.

At CNN on Zucker’s watch, Trump presidential campaign rallies were aired, unedited, giving a novice candidate exposure and edge. Wolf accused CNN of breaking the news, but missed a major quarry by name, right in the room.

There, I’ve named the three stooges of the 2016 election: Zucker, Comey and Zuckerberg.

In 2006, comedian Stephen Colbert delivered a sly dig to the news media. On weapons of mass destruction: “We Americans didn’t want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out.”

Fair enough. The news media was seduced by President George W. Bush’s rush to war on Iraq, even my favorite columnist, Mary McGrory.

But we’re doing a better job on Trump, in a waning world of news. Wolf may have burned down the dinner. But having a laugh across lines matters; that's no laughing matter.

Jamie Stiehm writes about politics, culture and history as a weekly Creators Syndicate columnist and regular contributor to U.S. News & World Report. Follow her on Twitter: @jamiestiehm. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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