The White House Correspondents’ Dinner will take place this Saturday, almost a year to the day since Sarah Huckabee Sanders was feasted on as part of the after-dinner entertainment from Michelle Wolf. It’s unlikely there will be any laughs at her expense this weekend, with team Trump staying away and without a comedian hosting.
Which is a crying shame, given the yuks we could have after the latest high heel dropped in Sanders’ relationship with the press corps. She was nailed in the Mueller report for lying to the press to back up Trump’s claim that countless FBI agents were grateful he fired Director James Comey. Not since Ron Ziegler had to explain Watergate has a press secretary seen the job less as an honest broker between the president and reporters and more as an agent protecting a client with a lot to hide.
After Sanders sat there and took it as Wolf joked about her honesty, among other things, the press secretary took to Fox to say that "That evening says a whole lot more about her than it does about me."
It turns out that it said a lot about her, as evidenced by the confirmation under oath before the special counsel that she’d told a whopper and not in the heat of the moment but from her prepared notes. There’s been no response from the White House Correspondents Association, although one’s been asked for. The New York Times’ Peter Baker told the Washington Post that “If you don’t have [credibility], there’s not much point” to the job, and wondered if Sanders might learn from her mistakes.
CNN analyst and American Urban Radio Networks bureau chief April Ryan also chimed in, pointing out that any other person caught telling the truth only when under oath, and lying as much as she did in general, would be terminated. She went on to colorfully call for Trump to start “lopping the heads off” of discredited officials like Sanders, which prompted dear old dad, former Arkansas governor and Fox host Mike Huckabee to accuse Ryan of “an incitement to murder.” He asked that the WHCA revoke her credentials, which it does not provide in the first place. Then Sanders struck back herself saying that “no one takes Ryan seriously anyway.”
We take her very seriously. An eternity ago, before Sanders became so condescending and snide, she was welcomed as an antidote to Sean Spicer who, as less of a believer, couldn’t risk breaking character to do anything but rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat Trump’s talking points. He was less helpful overall, lacking access to the president who treated him almost as harshly as Saturday Night Live, mocking the spokesman’s baggy suits, damp forehead, and inability to sell the press on a supposedly history-making inaugural crowd.
Sanders’ task is much harder than Spicer’s. The lie Mueller uncovered isn’t hyperbole about numbers on the Mall but an effort to aid Trump obstruct justice with a fake reason for dismissing Comey. Until the Mueller report, the press had been reluctant, for understandable reasons, to call her out. She holds the keys to the kingdom for White House reporters, and she keeps adding new locks. There’s been no briefing in 46 days, unless you count the mock one she held Thursday to acknowledge Take Your Child To Work Day. Daily reporters say that she rarely returns calls. Ask a follow-up question and she condescendingly calls it “ridiculous” or “disgraceful.”
She trumps Trump. “Frankly, I think the term ‘animal’ doesn’t goes far enough,” she said of Trump’s description of gangs at the border. She brings up being a mother to soften her image but when asked about taking children from their parents at the border, she said they more or less deserved it because their parents were breaking the law which the Bible says must be enforced.
There might be some sympathy for a surrogate for a president who’s told over 9,000 lies, as tracked by the Washington Post using accounting procedures as stringent as Price Waterhouse. But she makes it hard when she goes on Sean Hannity to insist, with no remorse, that getting rid of Comey was to boost morale—then she’s edging with her boss into Nixon country. Trump’s not talking to presidential portraits, or asking his Secretary of State to kneel and pray with him but he’s doing the modern equivalent, hate-tweeting a dozen times before 6am in the morning at the fake press, name-checking the New York Times, Psycho Joe Scarborough and nearly every other program except for Fox & Friends on state TV. All this despite boasting he’s “never been happier” over his so-called exoneration by the Mueller report, while the rest of us are reeling from the picture it presents of a deeply disturbed president.
Trump is never happier than when angry, just ask Don McGahn. Tuesday, the president ordered that not just Sanders but that all White House aides, past and present, boycott the correspondents dinner leaving it again without its ostensible reason for existing: to have the president, or at least a stand-in, drink our wine, eat our rare filet, laugh at the human condition, and leave feeling a bit of each other’s pain.
Trump’s boycott is more about his lingering fury over last year’s jokes aimed at him than solidarity with Sanders. He’ll be rallying in Green Bay, Wisconsin with folks already convinced that everyone inside the beltway is a bunch of elites commingling with each other, except for the Man in the MAGA hat who’s chosen them over some fancy swamp party.
Even before Trump turned last year’s dinner into a federal case, there was recognition that the dinner had jumped the shark at a time when the press under presidential assault can’t afford to be misunderstood: there’s the arms race to lure celebrities to attend (the cast of Veep, George Clooney, and Larry David) offering Oscar-worthy goodie bags, hotel suites, and first-class flights. Scholarships, presented with much fanfare, don’t equal 1 percent of the bar bill.
Unlike Trump, the press took the criticism seriously. The WHCA dropped the long tradition of having a comedian—a highly welcome diversion in an otherwise long evening of formal dress and painful footwear—for a historian. No offense to Ron Chernow, the celebrated biographer of Alexander Hamilton, but Trump, out with the real people, will no doubt talk about the invitation he turned down to be with them and take pleasure that, thanks to him, whatever else is on the menu, the press will be having spinach for dessert.