WashPost Mostly Blames Trump For Killing Comedy At The Correspondents Dinner

Posted on Sat 04/27/2019 by

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By Tim Graham ~

Washington Post gossip Emily Heil has an obituary of sorts on the front of Friday’s Style section on “How the White House Correspondents’ Association lost its sense of humor.” We’re supposed to mourn the era when comedians would “roast” the president, and completely forget the tremendous imbalance of “roasting.”

In the Obama years, comedians hailed Obama and ripped into conservatives. (See Obama worshipper Larry Wilmore.) The Post pictures Wanda Sykes of the 2009 dinner, but never mentions she wished from the dais that Rush Limbaugh’s kidneys would fail. 

The problem today, apparently, is the comedy has to be vicious, or it would “fall flat,” according to “experts.”

And the Wolf controversy might not have been a one-off: Many observers say that comedy in the context of the media dinner is tough to pull off in an era where political humor is weaponized and even laughing can feel like a partisan act.

“The expectations by the political elite about what political humor is have changed,” said Jody Baumgartner, a professor at East Carolina University who teaches a course about political humor. “You’d have to bring in someone who is willing to punch really, really hard or else it would fall flat.”

He notes that modern political humor draws more from the tradition of former Daily Show host Jon Stewart, who combines liberal activism with his punchlines, than the gentle ribbing of late-night comics like Johnny Carson or even David Letterman, whose aim was to elicit laughs rather than advance policies. “Humorists now see themselves as political activists,” Baumgartner said.

Well, at least the “expert” is right that comedians have to be activists now. Heil turned to Steve Clemons of The Hill newspaper (a former aide to a Democrat Senator, and who identified Hillary Clinton as a “neoconservative”) to blame Jon Stewart for killing the comedian slot:

“I always thought that Jon Stewart killed the correspondents’ dinner,” said Steve Clemons, the editor at large for The Hill newspaper and a veteran of more dinners than he can count. “Because after him, there was an edginess in comedy in the dinner . . . and it all became really politically charged.”

Since this is the Post, the death of comedy is actually Donald Trump’s fault: 

And Trump, unlike former presidents, seems to lack a funny bone. Former FBI director James B. Comey has said in interviews that he never once saw the president laugh.

“A lot of what humor is about is showing weakness,” said Dan Glickman, the former agriculture secretary (and one-time winner of the “Funniest Celebrity in Washington” contest). “You’re saying what about you is funny or dopey, and he’s just incapable of that. He’s not funny. Many of his remarks are aiming daggers at other people — where he can be funny is at the expense of other people.”

Members of the media, too, aren’t in much of a laughing mood these days when it comes to jokes aimed at them, Clemons noted, pointing to attacks on the press by the administration, the public’s eroding faith in the Fourth Estate and violence against reporters around the globe. “We can be a bit thin-skinned, I don’t think the media has ever been targeted the way it has,” he said. “Journalism is on edge in terms of our role and place, and I don’t think we feel as secure as we used to.”

So if Trump made fun of reporters, it endangers their safety, but when they call him Mentally Unfit Orange Hitler-Stalin, that’s fair game. “Humor,” by Washington Post standards.

Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters. He is Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center.

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