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In the 40 hours since Michelle Wolf roasted White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (and other members of the Trump administration) during her White House Correspondents’ Dinner hosting gig on Saturday night, a discussion has raged among journalists and politicos about whether the upstart comedian went too far. Figures along the ideological landscape have jumped in to support Sanders and to criticize what they saw as ad hominem attacks. Some, including the president, are saying that the annual dinner needs to be junked altogether.
But Sanders’ father, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, told The Hollywood Reporter on Monday morning that his daughter has “moved on” from the incident. “My daughter’s a remarkable person and she’s strong,” said Huckabee, who now hosts a weekly show on Trinity Broadcasting Network. “Things like that aren’t going to cause her to lose sleep.”
What do you make of the backlash to Michelle Wolf’s comments on Saturday night about your daughter, Sarah?
I think the main point out of it all is: If the purpose of the event was to elevate and celebrate journalism, and to bring the country together, I think it really may have missed the mark. It was one of those events where it was so overwhelmingly negative toward the president and the people who voted for him, that I just think it validated a lot of the just contempt that so many people in this country have for the media right now.
You appeared on Jeanine Pirro’s Fox News show before the dinner even began and said the event is “one of the most phony things that ever happened.” Was this year’s dinner even worse than you anticipated?
Well, much more. And I think it wasn’t just the attacks on the staff of the president, but it was the vulgarity. I mean, just the unbridled vulgarity. I wonder how many of the people sitting in that room who have children would have really been happy for their kids to sit and listen to the language that she used, to the explicit, kind of sexual references — that’s one thing in a comedy club, but that’s a nationally televised event that’s supposed to be, again, celebrating journalism and the First Amendment. I think it’s pretty evident by the reaction that so many in the White House Correspondents’ Association have, whether it was Andrea Mitchell or Maggie Haberman — I mean, a number of people who are at least seemingly outwardly and openly embarrassed by the whole thing.
Do you think the dinner should be canceled? Or, should they stop inviting comedians to perform?
Well, that’s certainly not my call. But I think they need to rethink: What is the purpose? If the purpose is to invite members of the White House staff to sit 5 feet from the podium and then ambush them with the kind of insults that were hurled at my daughter — and she’s tough enough to take it. She sat there. She’s fine. But that was, it was just crude, and it was cruel, to invite someone as a guest. I mean, the truth is, Jeremy, if I invited you to my home, and asked you to come, and told you I’d like to have you for dinner, and once you got there, I spent the evening embarrassing you, humiliating you, calling you a liar, making fun of your physical appearance, and doing it front of my other guests, would you walk out of there saying, “Boy, what a nice host he was?” You would be utterly mortified, that you had been so used in that way.
Do you think she should have skipped the dinner then, to avoid this potential situation?
No, I think she believed that — and, she even, I’m pretty sure, inquired, “Is this going to be an event that’s not going to just target me or the White House in some ridiculous way?” “Oh no, it’s not going to be that.” But it was that.
So she got assurances to some degree that it wouldn’t be so anti-Trump?
I mean, I think everybody expected it would be anti-Trump. You can’t have a dinner like that and then not take on the president — whether it’s Obama, or Bush, or whoever it is. That’s part of it, and everybody gets that. … But there’s a difference between comedy that singes and comedy that burns. That wasn’t even comedy. The people in the room didn’t laugh.
How do you think Sarah has handled this situation and the backlash to the speech?
Well, I think she’s handled it fine. She’s a tough kid. She’s grown up in this world. She’s also a person who has manners. I mean, even the people who do not agree with her or don’t like her have to admit that she’s not a mean person. She doesn’t go out and just see if she can destroy somebody. She will defend herself, she will defend the president, she will defend the White House, but what happened the other night — again, the worst of it — was to put someone right there by the podium, in full view of everyone, and then bring someone up who spends a good bit of her routine physically mocking her, being vicious, bullying.
Have you talked to her since the dinner?
Oh, yeah. Sure.
What was the sense you got from her about how she’s reacted to it?
She’s moved on. Again, my daughter’s a remarkable person and she’s strong. Things like that aren’t going to cause her to lose sleep. I think she was just disappointed that she was subjected to that and felt that it was just inappropriate to invite her as the guest of the association, as the representative of the White House, put her in that very public, prominent position, and then to have her essentially bullied in front of 3,000 people and millions on television. How would anyone feel? But she handled it a whole lot better than I think that most people do, and it just did not seem to cause her — she didn’t go home and cry her eyes out or anything like that. It’s just not who she is.
Before the speech, the prevailing narrative of the weekend was that the administration was offering an olive branch to the press by attending the festivities. That narrative stopped when the speech was given by Michelle Wolf and the focus shifted to the backlash.
Well, here’s the fact — I mean, I can tell you this: Sarah has genuine respect for the people in that White House briefing room and the ones who work that beat. She knows they have a job to do. And I think most of them would say to you that she is kind and polite to them and tries to be helpful, and tries to get information that they request, and tries to do it in a timely manner. She recognizes that’s their job. That their job is not to come in there and give the president a tongue bath, and they certainly don’t. But it’s not her job to work against her boss and to feed information or to validate information that would be hurtful to the White House or to the president. Her job is to defend that ground, and that’s what she does. She does it, I think, very well.
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