Controversy swirls around White House Correspondent's Dinner after headline performance by comedian Michelle Wolf

Key Points
  • Comedian Michelle Wolf delivered a profanity-lace diatribe that sharply departed from the traditional spirit of the evening
  • Wolf's performance, which included a harsh skewering of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, left the media sharply divided over its level of propriety.

Bela Bajaria and Michelle Wolf attend the Celebration After the White House Correspondents' Dinner.
Tasos Katopodis | Getty Images

Criticism mounted on Sunday over the entertainment at the annual White House Correspondent's Dinner, where the headlining comedian launched into a profanity-laced diatribe that skewered Washington's political establishment, in a way that even some journalists thought crossed a line.

For the second year, President Donald Trump skipped the annual confab, dubbed "Nerd Prom" by attendees. However, he and members of his administration were eviscerated by comedian Michelle Wolf in a raunchy tirade that diverged sharply from the evening's traditional entertainment.

An alum of "The Daily Show" and "Late Night with Seth Meyers," Wolf drew sharp criticism after she blasted the women of the Trump administration: Ivanka Trump, Kellyanne Conway, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, all of whom were seated just feet away from the podium.

The performance, which was televised live on C-SPAN, was fiercely debated on social media Sunday, with several high-profile journalists taking issue with Wolf's harsh jokes.

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The Correspondent's Dinner has come in for frequent criticism by some media observers, who believe journalists, and the policymakers they frequently cover, shouldn't cavort so ostentatiously. The gala-like event has also fanned worries about the appearance of elitism, amplifying the criticism of right-leaning critics of a press corps that appears out of touch.

Sanders, the White House Press Secretary, was relentlessly skewered by Wolf, which prompted even some of the reporters who aggressively cover the White House to spring to her defense.

"I actually really like Sarah," the comedian said at the dinner. "I think she's very resourceful. But she burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smokey eye," Wolf said, alluding to Sanders' make up. "Like maybe she's born with it, maybe it's lies. It's probably lies."

New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman, a recent target of Trump's ire, tweeted her admiration of the way Sanders dealt with the scathing attack.

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Wolf tweeted rebuttals at Haberman and MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski on Sunday.

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Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who attended the dinner, called Wolf's routine: "An R/X rated spectacle that started poorly and ended up in the bottom of the canyon."

An R/X rated spectacle that started poorly and ended up in the bottom of the canyon. Another victory for @realDonaldTrump for not attending and proving his point once again. The room was uncomfortable. Trump lovers and even a large number of Trump haters were pretty miserable.

In an interview with CNN early Sunday, White House Correspondents' Association President Margaret Talev stressed that Wolf's performance was not indicative of the atmosphere of unity that the association was trying to create. "I don't think the comedian speaks for the press corps."

Talev, a senior White House correspondent at Bloomberg, danced around outright criticizing Wolf. "I think that she brought to the mic what she wanted to say." Talev added that she did not get a preview of Wolf's jokes ahead of time.

The controversy over the Correspondent's Dinner was not lost on Trump, who in fact blasted the media in a campaign-like speech Saturday night in Michigan, then took aim at Wolf from his Twitter account.

While Washington, Michigan, was a big success, Washington, D.C., just didn't work. Everyone is talking about the fact that the White House Correspondents Dinner was a very big, boring bust...the so-called comedian really "bombed." @greggutfeld should host next year! @PeteHegseth