Correspondents group criticizes comedian Michelle Wolf for remarks at annual dinner

The head of the White House Correspondents' Association criticized comedian Michelle Wolf on Sunday night after a day of blistering reaction to Wolf's jokes at the group's annual dinner.

Margaret Talev, senior White House correspondent for Bloomberg News and president of the correspondents' organization, earlier appeared to defend Wolf, who for 20 minutes delivered harsh and stinging remarks about Democrats, Republicans, President Donald Trump's adult children, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

C-SPAN radio stopped broadcasting her performance more than halfway through Saturday night and replayed an episode of "Washington Journal," instead. It said it was concerned about the speech's "compatibility with the FCC's indecency guidelines."

Appearing Sunday morning on CNN, where she is also a political analyst, Talev called Wolf "a talented comedian who had a message to deliver, and she did deliver a message." Her only regret, she said, was that Wolf's routine was "now defining four hours of what was a really wonderful, unifying night."

But by Sunday night, the drumbeat of criticism had grown so loud that Talev released a follow-up statement saying Wolf — whose name she didn't repeat — undercut the point of the dinner. 

Talev said she had heard from members "expressing dismay with the entertainer's monologue and concerns about how it reflects on our mission."

"Last night's program was meant to offer a unifying message about our common commitment to a vigorous and free press while honoring civility, great reporting and scholarship winners, not to divide people," she said. "Unfortunately, the entertainer's monologue was not in the spirit of that mission." 


Trump, for his part, ripped the program, tweeting Monday morning that "the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is DEAD as we know it."

"This was a total disaster and an embarrassment to our great Country and all that it stands for," he wrote. "FAKE NEWS is alive and well and beautifully represented on Saturday night!"

Wolf, a former correspondent on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" who has a coming late-night show on Netflix, pulled no punches as she compared Sanders to a ruthless figure in the dystopian show "The Handmaid's Tale." She added that Sanders "burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye," referring to her makeup.

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Comedian Michelle Wolf entertains guests at the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) dinner at The Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, April 28, 2018. The 104th WHCA raises money for scholarships and honors the recipients of the organization's journalism awards. (Photo by Cheriss May) (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28: Host Michelle Wolf attends the 2018 White House Correspondents' Dinner at Washington Hilton on April 28, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28: Comedian Michelle Wolf attends the Celebration After the White House Correspondents' Dinner hosted by Netflix's The Break with Michelle Wolf on April 28, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Netflix)
JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE! - 'Jimmy Kimmel Live!' airs every weeknight at 11:35 p.m. EDT and features a diverse lineup of guests that include celebrities, athletes, musical acts, comedians and human interest subjects, along with comedy bits and a house band. The guests for Monday, April 16 included Rob Lowe ('Super Troopers 2'), Michelle Wolf (Host of this year's White House Correspondents Dinner), and musical guest Jorja Smith. (Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images) MICHELLE WOLF
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 11: Michelle Wolf attend Stand Up For A Cause Johnny Mac Tennis Project Comedy Night at Carolines On Broadway on April 11, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 24: Michelle Wolf attends the 6th Annual Hilarity For Charity at The Hollywood Palladium on March 24, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS -- Episode 616 -- Pictured: (l-r) Host Seth Meyers and comedian Michelle Wolf during the 'Bad Sponsors' sketc on November 28, 2017 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 17: TV Personality Michelle Wolf arrives for the HBO's Post Emmy Awards Reception held at The Plaza at the Pacific Design Center on September 17, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - APRIL 21: Comedian Michelle Wolf performs onstage during the Moontower Comedy Festival at The Paramount Theatre on April 21, 2017 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/WireImage)
WANTAGH, NY - SEPTEMBER 10: Comedian Michelle Wolf performs onstage during Oddball Comedy Festival at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater on September 10, 2016 in Wantagh, New York. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 03: Michelle Wolf attends Comedy Central's New York Comedy Festival Kick-Off Party Celebration on November 3, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Comedy Central)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 12: Comedian/TV personality Michelle Wolf attends the 2016 Gilda Radner Award For Innovation In Comedy at Caroline's On Broadway on July 12, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Mark Sagliocco/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 29: (L-R) Michelle Wolf, Josh Charles, Cecily Strong, Seth Rogen, Lauren Miller, Leslie Jones, Bill Murray, and Oz Pearlman pose backstage as Hilarity for Charity presents HFC NYC at Highline Ballroom on June 29, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images for Hilarity For Charity)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 29: Comedian Michelle Wolf attends Seth and Lauren Rogen's Hilarity for Charity Comes to New York at Highline Ballroom on June 29, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jimi Celeste/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 26: Comedian Michelle Wolf attends The Daily Show with Trevor Noah Stand-Up in the Park in Central Park on June 26, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Comedy Central)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 20: Michelle Wolf and Seth Meyers attend the Museum of the Moving Image honoring Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos and Seth Meyers at St. Regis Hotel on June 20, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 22: Comedian Michelle Wolf performs onstage during Vulture Festival presents Sarah Silverman & Friends at BAM on May 22, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Vulture Festival)
LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS -- Episode 357 -- Pictured: Comedian Michelle Wolf performs on April 14, 2016 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS -- Episode 329 -- Pictured: Michelle Wolf as �Grown Up Annie� during a sketch on February 17, 2016 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman, who was honored at the dinner, criticized the jokes Wolf made on Twitter, particularly those aimed at Huckabee. Wolf was quick to respond, pointing out that none of her jokes was aimed at Huckabee's appearance. 

Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer called the dinner "a disgrace" on Twitter, to which Wolf responded with "Thank you!"

Another of Wolf's jokes that earned the ire of those in attendance focused on Vice President Mike Pence and his opposition to abortion.

"He thinks abortion is murder," Wolf said. "Which, first of all, don't knock it until you try it. And when you do try it, really knock it, you know, you gotta get that baby out of there. You can groan all you want, I know a lot of you are very anti-abortion, you know, unless it’s the one you got for your secret mistress. It’s fun how values can waver.”

Matt Schlapp, the head of Conservative Political Action Conference, and his wife, Mercedes Schlapp, a Trump administration official, both said they walked out of the White House Correspondent's dinner. He said they were particularly incensed by the abortion joke.

"Enough of elites mocking all of us," Matt Schlapp wrote on Twitter, a comment which in turn also drew criticism

Talev's comments Sunday night were markedly different from those made by Mark Smith, then the president of the correspondents' association, after comedian Stephen Colbert performed at the dinner in 2006 and mocked President George W. Bush and cable news pundits.

"There was nothing he said where I would have leapt up to say, 'Stop,'" Smith said at the time. "I thought he was very funny."

By contrast, in 1996, Terry Murphy, then the chairman of the group, signed a letter of apology to President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary Clinton, after radio host Don Imus' performance made direct references to Clinton's reported extramarital affairs.

NBC News news analyst Howard Fineman disagreed with the criticism of Wolf. He pointed out on Twitter that Wolf's "blunt, crude, pitiless" act "torched EVERYONE," including Democrats, Stormy Daniels and the media. He added that Wolf was invited by the White House Correspondents' Association and didn't aim to be popular with all viewers.

"It's not her job to behave," he said, noting that she likely hoped to promote her Netflix show. 

Others were also unconvinced by the backlash that occurred on social media after the event.

Actor and comedian Kumail Nanjiani responded to Haberman's initial tweet. "They call you liars," he said, referring to the Trump administration's belittling of some journalists. "They call Muslims murderers. They support white supremacists. But someone calls them out on what they do, [and] suddenly they're heroes for not walking out." He appeared to be referring to the plaudits Sanders received for sitting through the jokes directed at her.

The actor said Haberman unfollowed the comedian on Twitter when he pushed her to explain her criticism.

Although Trump skipped the event for the second year in a row to attend a rally in Washington, Michigan, he also weighed in on Twitter.

Watch Wolf's speech in full:

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