The White House Correspondents Dinner was created as a truce between the White House and the White House press corp. Every day, the two go at each other, with reporters asking biting questions and the White House spokesperson offering often deflecting answers. But there is one evening a year — the dinner — when the two sides are supposed to sit down together and call a truce.
However, the dinner that just happened, with host Michelle Wolf, was quite the opposite. Whether her routine was cleaver or not, funny or mean, serious or lighthearted, is not the point of this essay. Her objective was not to host the event. Her objective was to be talked about and further her career.
In today’s world of social media and cable news shows, there is a lot of time and space to fill. Gone are the days when news programs told us what we needed to know. Today, they have hours and hours to fill and computers to clog.
That’s why if someone wants to be talked about, and hence grow their fan base, then the best way to do that is to be outrageous. If someone in the public eye is outrageous, over-the-top and crosses the line, then some people will get angry. Others will defend her/him. In either event, that person becomes the focal point of discussion, whether you agree with them or not.
That was Wolf’s mission. As a participant on The Daily Show, she isn’t exactly a household name. But the day after the dinner, she was headline news. Now more people know her name and more will follow her on Twitter and more might see her comedy shows.
Once gaining notoriety was done by making constructive contributions to the public discourse, being intellectual or cleaver. Today it is simply just being outrageous. It is career death to be bland. Nobody will take notice of you. You might say things that are truthful, insightful, brilliant, but nobody will care. On the other hand, say things that make people gasp, blush, or moan in anguish, and you now have put yourself on the map, regardless of who you may have wrongfully attacked, embarrassed or hurt. All that matters is your career.
For those who think that Wolf’s “jokes” were just jokes, think again. It was a calculated PR move by someone who understands that marketing a career starts with getting attention.
And hats off to her. She succeeded.