Politics

Top Journalists Reject Michelle Wolf’s Insults of Sarah Sanders

Comedian's degrading mockery at White House Correspondents' Dinner draws apology demand from Ed Henry of Fox News

Although comedian Michelle Wolf does not speak for journalists, her insults of presidential press secretary Sarah Sanders’ physical appearance “[reflect] on the press corps,” White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) President Margaret Talev admitted Sunday on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

Wolf, who spoke for nearly 20 minutes at the annual WHCA dinner on Saturday, received intense backlash Sunday for her comments about Sanders — who attended the dinner and was just a few feet away from Wolf during her widely panned performance.

The comedian mocked Sanders, saying she “burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.” Wolf also called Sanders an “Uncle Tom, but for white women who disappoint other white women.”

When “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter asked Talev if she had “any regrets” about the WHCA dinner and Wolf’s remarks, Talev replied, “First of all, it was a great honor to be able to preside over last night’s dinner and to represent all of the journalists who cover the president. And we were really appreciative to have so many administration officials in the audience, including Sarah Sanders at the head table last night.”

“My aim and the way I sought to put together the program was to build a spirit of unity in that room, to rally around journalism and why it’s important,” Talev said, noting she “worked really hard to do that” in her own speech.

But Wolf’s degrading remarks far overshadowed those by Talev and dominated much of the reaction to the dinner.

“My only regret is that, to some extent, those 15 minutes are now defining four hours of what was a really wonderful, unifying night. And I don’t want the cause of unity to be undercut,” Talev said.

When Stelter asked Talev if she believed that Wolf “crossed a line,” Talev didn’t answer directly.

“I think she brought to the night what she thought was important to say and that her goal may not have been press unity and everyone rallying around the room to support journalism,” Talev responded. “But, look, I invited her. And I invited her because I thought that she’s a talented comedian who had a message to deliver, and she did deliver a message. I delivered a message, too.”

But Stelter pressed on, noting that “a lot of the criticism” stemming from Wolf’s remarks concerned her “personal attacks against Sanders” and Sanders’ “personal appearance.” Noting that Talev spoke with Sanders “right after” Wolf’s roast, Stelter asked Talev about what she said to Sanders.

“I told her that I knew that this was a big decision, whether or not to attend the dinner and whether to sit at the head table, and that I really appreciated her being there,” Talev said. “I thought it sent an important message about the role of government and the press being able to communicate with one another and work together, and that I appreciated her being there.”

Related: ‘Downright Nasty’ Comedian Took Correspondents’ Dinner to New Low

When Stelter asked Talev if inviting Wolf to speak at the dinner seemed “like an endorsement by the press corps,” Talev replied, “I think the comedian reflects on the press corps, but I don’t think that the comedian speaks for the press corps. The press corps speaks for itself.”

But Fox News’ Ed Henry, a past WHCA president, rebuked Wolf and the press corps at large for the comedian’s “mean, hateful” and “vile” insults to Sanders.”I was there for it,” Henry said Sunday on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.” “It was disgusting, despicable. Sarah Sanders should get an apology from the White House Correspondents Association.”

“What happened to Sarah Sanders last night was disgusting, and I say that as a former president of the White House Correspondents Association, who oversaw that dinner in 2013. It was awful,” Henry added. “Bottom line is, by the [White House] briefing tomorrow, I hope the association sees the need” for an apology to Sanders, Henry continued.

Stelter asked Talev, “Will there be an apology?”

But Talev replied, “What I told you is what I have already told Sarah Sanders, that I speak for myself and the association, and that my interest is in the spirit of unity and in the spirit of serious journalism.”

Many journalists and media members came to Sanders’ defense and criticized Wolf for comments many viewed as uncalled for and filled with inappropriate personal invective.

“Apology is owed to @PressSec and others grossly insulted [by] Michelle Wolf at White House Correspondents Assoc dinner … comedian was worst since Imus insulted Clinton’s,” NBC’s Andrea Mitchell tweeted Sunday.

“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,” The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman tweeted.

“Watching a wife and mother be humiliated on national television for her looks is deplorable. I have experienced insults about my appearance from the president. All women have a duty to unite when these attacks happen and the WHCA owes Sarah an apology,” MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski tweeted Sunday, adding that she “hurt for Sarah, her husband and her children.”

The Times’ Peter Baker tweeted Saturday, “I don’t think we advanced the cause [of journalism] tonight.”

“Some of the jokes were funny. Making fun of women for their looks is not. Ever,” the Associated Press’ Meg Kinnard tweeted Sunday.

CNN’s Chris Cillizza wrote Sunday that Wolf “went for lots of low-hanging fruit.”

“There are LOTS of way to go after Sanders. I personally think that she is overly antagonistic to the reporters who cover the White House and misleads on the regular. But to make fun of Sanders’ makeup?” Cillizza wrote. “Sanders showed up, sat on the dais and played along. She knew she was likely to get made fun of. But she would have no reasonable expectation that Wolf would go after her looks and refer to her as an ‘Uncle Tom, but for white women who disappoints other white women.'”

“I’m stunned that Sanders sat five feet away from Wolf and just took it,” Cillizza added. “Being funny is one thing. Bullying people because you can is another. And Wolf’s treatment of Sanders was bullying.”

Wolf responded Sunday to the widespread criticism on Twitter. In response to Haberman’s tweet, in particular, Wolf wrote, “Hey mags! All these jokes were about her despicable behavior. Sounds like you have some thoughts about her looks though?”

“Why are you guys making this about Sarah’s looks? I said she burns facts and uses the ash to create a perfect smoky eye. I complimented her eye makeup and her ingenuity of materials,” Wolf said while responding to Brzezinski’s tweet.

PoliZette writer Kathryn Blackhurst can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter.

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