5 key takeaways from the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner: OPINION

Perceptions of Trump will affect upcoming elections more than a few jokes.

April 30, 2018, 8:46 PM

So, a comedian, a reporter, and a press secretary walk into a ballroom ... sounds like the beginning of a joke.

But the punchline to the White House Correspondents' Association dinner has taken an incredibly serious turn in some folks' minds, and it's revealed a whole new level of hypocrisy in our politics today.

Let's start with a little backstory on my view of this dinner.

I attended my first WHCA dinner in 2001 after working on the Bush campaign. We were expected to go. I didn't know what this dinner was like before I went, but it seemed to me a celebrity-driven affair with schmoozing among Washington insiders. It's definitely not my cup of tea, before adding to that the fact I had to wear a tuxedo instead of my usual fare of jeans, boots and a T-shirt.

I decided my first would be my last.

A few years later, I began working for ABC News and again it seemed that attending was an obligation, so I went as a member of the press. I left early and vowed never to attend again.

I've been invited every year since, and I've turned it down every time. I spent this last Saturday hanging out with my daughter -- a trip to a bookstore and a street dance at a hardware store near my home in Wimberly, Texas.

So my views on the most recent WHCA dinner come from a distance, and they're laced with a negative opinion on the entire event.

Five key takeaways:

1. I think -- and have for many years -- that the WHCA should end this dinner. It's taken on way too much of an elitist, haughty and celebrity air, and it doesn't seem to highlight the great work done on behalf of the First Amendment. In the 21st century, there must be a better way to highlight great journalism while also conveying much of the humble work the White House press corps does on a daily basis.

2. I'm not a fan of Michelle Wolf's comedic style -- I prefer Maria Bamford -- and I don't think mean-spiritedness is a good thing, even when telling a truth, whether in comedy or in real life. Like Ellen DeGeneres, I think the best comedy makes people laugh without hurting someone. But let's keep in mind that Wolf is a comedian -- she's not an elected official, and the people who booked her knew her comedy style before she stepped to the podium.

3. The amount of offense Donald Trump supporters have taken at Wolf's jokes, including when she poked fun at Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is the Mt. Everest of hypocrisy. Trump has said much worse than Wolf, including some of the most vile, mean, degrading things about women, minorities, various media people, elected officials, disabled people, reporters, etc. Wolf is a comedian, and her job is to make people laugh. Trump's job is to unite the country. If you don't criticize Trump daily for his words, actions and tweets, then you really don't have much right to go after Wolf.

4. Furthermore, Trump has not only said outrageous things, he's taken action against various groups of people and has attacked bedrock institutions of our nation. The words of a comedian don't come close to what the president's done. What Wolf did is the equivalent of someone toilet-papering the trees in your yard, compared with Trump's cutting down your trees, ripping up your plumbing and cutting the electrical wires into your home.

5. I have noticed that many in the press and media are way too easily and incorrectly shamed. The reaction of some in the media, including the apology of the Correspondents Association, blaming Wolf without providing some objectivity and perspective on what Trump does every day doesn't serve the pursuit of truth or the First Amendment. Our job in the media is to constantly pursue the truth, and to provide perspectives on truth. We shouldn't give equal weight to what's said by comedians and by presidents -- it only encourages our leaders to behave more like entertainers.

I love to laugh every day, and it's important we all learn to understand the serious issues facing our world and our country without taking ourselves too seriously. Within a few days, this comedian vs. commander in chief drama will have passed, and we should be on to more important issues.

And I guarantee that the perceptions of Trump will have a dramatically bigger effect on the November elections than a few jokes Wolf told one night in a D.C. ballroom.

Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of ABC News.

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