The nearly constant attacks on the press from the president

Good grief. The comedian at the White House reporters’ dinner last night said some words about Sarah Huckabee Sanders – who lies to those reporters every day for her dishonest bullying fraud of a boss – and people are shocked.

It is an American press tradition that goes back decades: the US president endures a friendly ribbing in front of an audience of journalists, all in the name of charity.

It’s a “tradition” I wasn’t even aware of until a day back in the 90s when I went to a bookstore reading by Christopher Hitchens of No One Left to Lie To. It was the day after that year’s dinner, which he had attended before taking the red eye to Seattle. He was indeed red of eye, and told us frankly he was feeling “pretty seedy” – and he was scathing about the “tradition” of that dinner. The reasons are (or should be) obvious: it’s way too cozy and cuddly for the relationship between power and the press. He was not wrong.

But with Donald Trump skipping the White House Correspondents’ Dinner for the second year running, the honour of attending this year went to his press secretary, Sarah Sanders.

Sanders said the president had encouraged his staff to attend, and that she thought it was “important for us to be here”.

After enduring biting mockery from comedian Michelle Wolf, she looked as though she might be regretting the choice.

Oh, gee, really? That’s so sad. Of course, she works for a guy who dishes out biting mockery from a position of more power than any of his victims have, so maybe that makes it kind of fair to make “biting” jokes about her job performance? Especially given that it really wasn’t all that “biting”? At all?

In a ‘roast’ that drew both laughs and gasps, Wolf started by saying: “We are graced with Sarah’s presence tonight. I have to say I’m a little star struck.”

“I love you as Aunt Lydia in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’,” Wolf told Sanders.

Mean, perhaps, but also fair. I think Sanders’s perpetual scowl is a wretchedly bad look for a press secretary – amateurish, hostile, belligerent – of a piece with Trump’s constant authoritarian attacks on the legitimate news media. That stuff isn’t trivial and it isn’t amusing and it isn’t about Sanders’s appearance; it’s a branch of a relentless attack on the free press. Yes, we do get to push back against it.

Maggie Haberman, White House correspondent for the New York Times (which stopped attending the event in 2008), questioned Wolf’s attack on the press secretary’s appearance.

I didn’t know the Times had stopped attending. Seems wise; see Hitchens above. But Haberman’s tweet…

That @PressSec sat and absorbed intense criticism of her physical appearance, her job performance, and so forth, instead of walking out, on national television, was impressive.

Oh come on. PressSec works for the guy who calls Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas,” Chuck Todd “sleepy eyes,” Charles Schumer “Cryin’ Chuck,” and on and on. She works for a “president” who insults people on Twitter every day…not to mention the fact that there was no “intense criticism of her physical appearance”: there was a joke about “the perfect smokey eye.” That’s it. Haberman confirmed that’s what she meant:

The jokes I watched/heard about her eye makeup weren’t making fun of her appearance? What were they?

One, not jokes plural, but one joke; two – a joke about perfect makeup is not making fun of her [immutable] appearance. It’s partly a joke about her presentation, but it’s not an insulting one. I do dislike attacks on people’s looks, and that can include presentation, but I don’t think a reference to perfect eye makeup counts as that.

But either way, being impressed that Sanders didn’t walk out is simply pathetic coming from a journalist. Jim Acosta has it right.

My problem with last night’s dinner is not that we had a comedian who told some nasty jokes. It’s that we did not really address the nearly constant attacks on the press from the president. The dinner should change with the times so we send a strong message to the world. #WHCD

Talk about the elephant in the room…

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