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Comedian Michelle Wolf. Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP

At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in April, 2018, Michelle Wolf regaled the black-tie and sequin-gowned crowd with her “jokes.” I have nothing to say really about how well Ms. Wolf did as a comedian; she is a known quantity, and she was, after all, invited to the dinner to do her thing. She did her thing as well as can be expected in this day & age, and in this setting so prone to partisan politics and partisan media.

It has been acceptable to skewer politicians at this event (being non-partisan, and non-American, I can often see the intended humour). It has also been recognized as a sign of a healthy democracy when its people can make fun of its government. But there was more going on at this dinner than just telling jokes; there was the ugly exposure of degrading contemporary values. Robert Barron wrote:

“Almost all [jokes] were in extremely bad taste and/or wildly offensive, but one has become accustomed to that sort of coarseness in the comedy clubs and even on mainstream television. However, she crossed over into the territory of the morally appalling when she indulged in this bit of witticism regarding Vice President Mike Pence: “He thinks abortion is murder, which, first of all, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. And when you do try it, really knock it, you know. You gotta get that baby out of there.” One is just at a loss for words. I mean, even some in the severely left-leaning crowd in Washington groaned a bit at that remark.

It might be helpful to remind ourselves what Ms. Wolf is referencing when she speaks of “knocking that baby out of there.” She means the evisceration, dismemberment, and vivisection of a child. And lest one think that we are just talking about “bundles of cells,” it is strict liberal orthodoxy that a baby can be aborted at any stage of its prenatal development, even while it rests in the birth canal moments before birth. Indeed, a child, who somehow miraculously survives the butchery of an abortion, should, according to that same orthodoxy, be left to die or actively killed. Sure sounds like fun to me; hey, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

I realize that these attitudes have been enshrined in American law for some time, but what particularly struck me about the Correspondents’ Dinner was how they were being bandied about so shamelessly for the entertainment of the cultural elite. Let’s face it, the people in that room — politicians, judges, writers, broadcasters, government officials — are the top of the food chain, among the most influential and powerful people in our society. And while the killing of children was being joked about — especially, mind you, the children of the poor, who are disproportionately represented among the victims of abortion — most in this wealthy, overwhelmingly white, elite audience guffawed and applauded.”

The Media

Wolf has a juicy target in taking aim at the news media, since they have, over the last few decades, become more about entertainment and television ratings, than about questioning false concepts and getting the facts straight. No wonder there is a growing mistrust of the media. Wolf quipped:

“The most useful information at CNN is when Anthony Bourdain tells me where to eat noodles.” “Fox News is here, so you know what that means, ladies. Cover your drinks.” Wolf said she knew many people wanted her to make fun of Sean Hannity, but she couldn’t because “this dinner’s for journalists.”

From inside the press corp that evening, Peter Baker of the New York Times tweeted:

Unfortunately, I don’t think we advanced the cause of journalism tonight. @peterbakernyt

The Joke was on Us

A giggle here, a guffaw there, disguised as wise-cracks, the value of life slid off into the garbage bin. Where comedy has had a rich history of poking the eye of the self-important, and sometimes being a prophetic outburst for truth, this was just a joke on us.