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Tuesday morning started out with a bang: James Finkelstein, the chairman of The Hill newspaper, released a statement to the White House Correspondents’ Association, which puts on the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, pledging to pull out of the event following the controversy over comedian Michelle Wolf’s biting monologue on Saturday night.
“In short, there’s simply no reason for us to participate in something that casts our profession in a poor light. Major changes are needed to the annual event,” Finkelstein wrote to WHCA executive director Steven Thomma.
Finkelstein, who declined further comment (through a spokeswoman), suggested he would reconsider his decision were “major reforms” to be enacted. His newsroom is said to feel differently about the newspaper’s future participation in the dinner.
While The Hill’s announcement made waves, no other media organizations have pledged to drop out of the dinner. Maribel Perez Wadsworth, the publisher of USA Today, sent a letter to WHCA president Margaret Talev on Monday critiquing this year’s dinner, and saying the event has “lost its way,” but she did not withdraw her newspaper from future participation.
On Tuesday afternoon, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was on the receiving end of several of Wolf’s jokes on Saturday night, was not asked about the dinner during her first press briefing and did not volunteer any comments about the backlash. (Her father, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, stuck up for her in a Monday chat with The Hollywood Reporter.)
For her part, Wolf told NPR that she doesn’t regret a single word of her monologue on Saturday night, and said she’s “not disappointed” by the backlash to her performance, which has significantly raised her national profile.
All this to say that the controversy over Wolf’s remarks seems to be fading from the national spotlight. Olivier Knox, the SiriusXM chief White House correspondent who is taking over the WHCA this summer, has welcomed that development.
In a conversation with THR on Tuesday, he called the national conversation (or outrage) about the dinner “an embarrassing thing,” and said, “There are a lot of other stories that deserve greater attention than the relative merits of a comic’s routine at the Correspondents’ Dinner.”
But, as Knox has said over the last few days, he believes the dinner needs to change, and he plans to meet with journalists from The Hill and other members of the WHCA to solicit feedback on potential tweaks to the format.
“I’ve expressed concerns about the Correspondents’ Dinner for 20 years,” Knox said. This summer, when he takes over the WHCA, he said he will finally have a chance to do something about it.
Knox has already seen some progress over the last few years in one aspect of the dinner that’s drawn derision among journalists. “The number of celebrities is down, which doesn’t displease me,” he said. “My goal for my dinner is to have the center of gravity of my dinner be the First Amendment and reporters, not the president, not the comic, and heaven help us, not celebrities in the audience.”
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