I had no idea who Michelle Wolf was until this past weekend’s White House Correspondents Dinner.
In about 15 minutes I imagine most Americans won’t, either.
Yet, in the span of a news cycle in which we saw the Prime Minister of Israel accuse Iran of violating the terms of a nuclear agreement, the historic progress made towards a denuclearized North Korea and the arrival of a caravan of migrants reaching the U.S. southern border, Michelle Wolf has been the obsession of self-obsessed journalism in America.
So, I can be perfectly clear up front.
Some of my best friends are journalists. Some of the most remarkable people I know are journalists
One of the most important jobs in a free, open and democratic society is journalism.
The United States remains one of the most vital and vibrant free societies in the world because we have a free press, largely and generally unsullied by entanglements with its government.
But, if there was ever a moment to suggest that journalism dial back the self-promotion of its craft and industry for making sure that Democracy doesn’t “…die in the dark.” or that it “…cut straight to the facts.” or ensures “..fair and balanced” presentation of the news or promising “…fact-based reporting.” it is the aftermath of the most recent White House Correspondents Dinner.
Because, for more than a decade now it has little to do with White House Correspondents and celebrating journalists or journalism or the craft they and the profession practice.
Instead, it has become an opportunity to see and be seen in Washington, D.C.
Celebrities and journalists – something that is increasingly become a distinction without a difference – have attended the event hand-in-hand.
They have partied and laughed together as comedians and others have poked fun at Presidents and the powerful Washington, D.C. elite.
The stories that come from the dinner’s aftermath never talk about the powerful need for journalism, or the necessity a free society has to encourage truthful, accurate, deep and reflective reporting and analysis.
What we get are the best jokes from Barack Obama The best insults thrown at Donald Trump. Or, whatever the litany of jokes were presented by someone named Michelle Wolf that has roiled journalism to its core across America.
So much so that the President of the White House Correspondents Association, Margaret Taley, was forced to issue a statement after the event because of the jokes told by Wolf.
“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 sponsorship winners, not to divide people…Unfortunately, the entertainer’s monologue was not in the spirit of that mission.”
Not once in modern times has the White House Correspondents Dinner been reported on as a program intended to offer a “…unifying message about our common commitment to a vigorous and free press while honoring civility, great reporting and sponsorship winners, not to divide people.”
On the contrary.
And, frankly, that is the problem.
Not just with a silly dinner attended by a bunch of people patting themselves and one another on the back.
Not a single American should care about what happens at the White House Correspondents Dinner that has to do with anything other than learning about journalists who are doing – gasp – their job.
We live in an America where the free press is under attack.
By a President. By politicians.
But, also by Americans themselves.
It is easy to blame the current President and politicians for this environment and, frankly, a lot of journalists do just that.
Yet, it doesn’t take much effort to reflect on the actions of the President before this President and his efforts to undermine the free press in America.
Or, those of previous Presidents and politicians long before the one’s today doing the mud slinging at journalists and their profession.
It’s an easy narrative, though.
It fits the narrative of far too many in journalism today, particularly those with the biggest soapbox, the most twitter followers and the highest ratings.
Journalism in America needs to do some soul searching of its own and learn what role it has been playing in the sullying of its reputation and the loss of its prestige.
Where it has seen its influence and presence wane in places where America needs journalism the most.
Oh, I know that the Washington Post has done the self-important job tracking and reporting that President Trump has made “3,000 false or misleading claims so far” and the Sinclair Broadcast Group is the only media syndicate committed to making sure the news is totally and completely accurate – according to them – and that Joe and Mika are really raising the bar on indignation and outrage.
But, America, now, more than ever – and more than ever before now – and long before then – and long after now – needs journalists and journalism to regain the prestige and power once afforded to them and their profession.
We need it in the small, quiet places in America where local government is playing an increasingly more influential role in American life than the politicians in Washington, D.C.
We need it in places where Americans don’t know how power corrupts and undermines democracy in ways we cannot even imagine.
We need our sons and daughters to aspire to be the truthtellers of the next generation of journalists because they see it as a higher calling of public service.
Journalism needs to heal itself. Sooner, rather than later.
It needs to stop making itself the story.
And, it needs to cover the story.
Americans need to hear and read stories about journalists who epitomize the best and brightest of their profession. We need to know that journalism honors those who have embraced their role in a free and democratic society to hold the powerful accountable at every level of power in America – not just in Washington, D.C. or in the statehouse of our country.
There are journalists who are mired in the drudgery and dim lights of their profession doing profound work across America.
It is time we lifted them up and celebrated the work they are doing so that other journalists can aspire to be them – not to be the ones who are “trending” because of the latest vitriolic exchange they are having with politician or celebrity they have latched onto that raises their personal profile on their Twitter account.
The most important story in America over the past 48 hours is not the White House Correspondents Dinner.
But, perhaps, the most important moment in American journalism in the past decade could have occurred in the past 48 hours after the White House Correspondents Dinner.
It may be an opportunity for those in journalism to take a step back and reflect on their own role in the sullying of its profession’s reputation and the decline of its prestige and influence in the most important democracy on Earth.
Or, like Michelle Wolf, the lessons of its aftermath may simply be forgotten 15 minutes from now.