Did Michelle Wolf Kill the White House Correspondents’ Dinner?


“I always wanted to talk about the dinner,” added Mr. Knox, a correspondent for SiriusXM radio who starts his year in the role in July. “But this has bumped it up a couple notches in terms of the priority list.”

The dinner’s usual format — barbed punch lines from the president followed by a comic’s roast — has caused dust-ups over the years, like Stephen Colbert’s filleting of George W. Bush in 2006, which did not sit well with the black-tie crowd. But until President Trump’s boycott in 2017 deprived the comedian of a foil, the evening had remained more or less the same.

Now, pressure on the Correspondents’ Association to reimagine the dinner is building, ratcheted up by social media, a heightened political climate and a frustrated press corps wondering if a sober moment for American journalism requires a comparably sober event.

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Ms. Wolf’s jokes about Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway set off a debate about the dinner’s format.

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Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Executives at CBS News were so dismayed by Saturday’s presentation that the network considered ending its participation in future dinners, according to three people who spoke anonymously to describe internal discussions. The network has since eased its position, after receiving assurances that the Correspondents’ Association will seriously consider changes to the dinner’s format.

Still, even as some Washington journalists seethed over what they deemed Ms. Wolf’s over-the-line jokes, others criticized the association for calling her monologue “not in the spirit” of its mission, arguing that a group dedicated to advancing journalism ought to defend a comedian’s right to free speech.

“It’s like going to a Billy Joel concert and being shocked he played ‘Piano Man,’” Judd Apatow, the writer, director and comedian, said in an interview on Monday.

The Correspondents’ Association gala raises money for the organization, which advocates for press access in the White House, and the scholarships it awards to journalism students. The inclusion of an entertainer was meant, originally, as a counterbalance to the president, who traditionally delivered his own zinger-packed monologue, flaying his foes and roasting the roasters.

Mr. Trump’s decision to avoid the evening made him the first presidential no-show since Ronald Reagan in 1981 — and the Gipper skipped the event only because he had been shot by a would-be assassin. (Not one to show weakness, Reagan called in from his hospital bed.)

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Stephen Colbert’s performance at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner did not sit well with the black-tie crowd.

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Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“We have a president who refuses to talk to anybody but Fox News,” Mr. Apatow said.

A complete end to the dinner has been floated, too, though it would be a special kind of cosmic irony if Mr. Trump presided over the fall of the event that inspired his political rise.

The president is said to have launched his pursuit of the Oval Office after a particularly demeaning night at the 2011 dinner, when he sat stone-faced as President Barack Obama called him a paranoiac and the entertainer, Seth Meyers, expressed surprise that Mr. Trump would run as a Republican, “because I thought he was running as a joke.”

Mr. Trump tweeted on Monday that “the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is DEAD as we know it.”

“This was a total disaster and an embarrassment to our great Country and all that it stands for,” he wrote. “FAKE NEWS is alive and well.”

Mr. Apatow said he viewed the event differently.

“I believe it’s the best part of America,” Mr. Apatow said. “This is what you’re not allowed to do in other countries! You’re not allowed to speak openly! You’re not allowed to criticize the president!”

He added: “This is the best thing we can do. We can say you’re safe to speak out in America.”

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Stormy Daniels, Trump’s Unlikely Foe, Is ‘Not Someone to Be Underestimated’


To many in the capital, Ms. Clifford, 39, has become an unexpected force. It is she, some in Washington now joke, and not the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who could topple Mr. Trump.

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A 1997 photo of Ms. Clifford, then Stephanie Gregory, taken from her high school yearbook.

Those who know her well have registered the moment differently. Ms. Clifford has subsisted amid the seamier elements of a business often rife with exploitation and unruly fare; more than a few of her film titles are unprintable. But for most of her professional life, Ms. Clifford has been a woman in control of her own narrative in a field where that can be uncommon. With an instinct for self-promotion, she evolved from “kindergarten circuit” stripper to star actress and director, and occasional mainstream success, by her late 20s. Why would a piece of paper and an executive legal team set her back?

“She’s the boss, and everyone knew it,” Nina Hartley, one of the longest-working performers in the industry, said about Ms. Clifford.

“The Renaissance porn star,” said Ron Jeremy, once perhaps the most famous porn star of all.

“She was a very serious businesswoman and a filmmaker and had taken the reins of her career,” said Judd Apatow, who directed her cameos in the R-rated comedies “Knocked Up” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” “She is not someone to be underestimated.”

In her own scripts, she has gravitated at times toward more ambitious productions, with elaborate plotlines and nods to politics.

Her standards on set can be exacting. Ms. Clifford does not mind firing people, colleagues said, banishing those who flub a scene or gild a résumé. She has demanded that an actor change his “dumb” stage name because it would look silly on her promotional materials. And she has coaxed singular performances from her charges, once guiding Mr. Jeremy through a scene in which he sang to her small dog.

Her competitive streak is not well concealed. After industry award nominations were announced one year, Ms. Clifford, who had amassed more than a dozen such honors, reminded an interviewer that she had been snubbed in the categories of cinematography and editing.

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A picture in a 1999 calendar featuring dancers from a strip club in Baton Rouge, La. Ms. Clifford worked there before entering the pornographic industry.

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The Penthouse Club in Baton Rouge, La.

When opportunities have presented themselves outside her domain — a Maroon 5 music video, a public flirtation with a Senate run in Louisiana, an appearance at a celebrity golf tournament that included a future president — Ms. Clifford has made the most of the publicity, helping her carve out a comfortable life in the Dallas suburbs.

She has a daughter, a third husband and an expensive hobby: equestrian shows. “She blends right in,” said Packy McGaughan, a trainer on the competition circuit. “A pretty girl riding a horse.”

More recently, inconspicuousness has been elusive in her life, but that is largely by design. Ms. Clifford has leveraged her newfound crossover fame into a national stripping tour, with scheduled dates through the end of the year. Not everyone is interested in attending.

“Pretty sure dumb whores go to hell,” someone wrote her on Twitter last week.

“Whew!” Ms. Clifford replied. “Glad I’m a smart one.”

Becoming Stormy

Classmates remember her as a serious, unobtrusive student — a natural fit at a competitive, racially diverse high school with an engineering focus. They knew her as Stephanie Gregory, the girl with the auburn hair. She liked horses and Mötley Crüe.

A quote beneath her senior yearbook photo hinted at high aspirations: “We will all get along just fine,” it read, “as soon as you realize that I am Queen.”

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The actress in 2006 at the Adult Video News Awards in Las Vegas.

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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

She thought she might be a veterinarian, or maybe a writer. “At first I thought I wanted to be a journalist,” Ms. Clifford said by phone on Friday in a 12-minute interview about her background.

Her parents, Sheila and Bill Gregory, divorced when she was about 4, leaving her largely in the care of her mother. She has not seen either parent in over a decade. Ms. Clifford, who later took her first husband’s surname, came from a “really bad neighborhood,” she said. She strained to remember exactly what she was like then.

“I don’t really know because I’m such a different person now,” she said. “I wasn’t like the popular girl, and I wasn’t the jock, and I wasn’t the ditz. I don’t know. I was just sort of in the middle of the road.”

She had offers from colleges, she has said. She had the test scores. The dancing started on a lark, of sorts. She was 17 and visiting a friend at a strip club in town, when she was persuaded to perform a “guest set.”

“I remember going on stage and thinking I was going to be a lot more afraid than I was,” Ms. Clifford said. “It was a slow night. There were like three people in the club, and I made enough money on two songs to make more than I did all week answering phones at the riding stable that I worked at.”

After high school, she found a professional home at the Gold Club in Baton Rouge, ingratiating herself with management as a reliable and magnetic performer, slogging through shifts from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. to earn perhaps a few hundred dollars a night.

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Ms. Clifford in New Orleans in 2009. She courted media attention that year while considering a bid in Louisiana for the United States Senate.

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Bill Haber/Associated Press

A calendar from 1999, in which Ms. Clifford straddles a Harley-Davidson as the dancer for July, still sits in the club, now called the Penthouse Club Baton Rouge.

“We knew,” said Chuck Rolling, who has long overseen operations there. “She was moving in a direction that was bigger than us. We’re in Baton Rouge. We’re not even New Orleans.”

Ms. Clifford eventually graduated to higher-profile dancing work, traveling across Texas and Louisiana to headline at strip clubs, before transitioning to pornography. She was both determined to bend the business to her will and conflicted about the long-term consequences. “I have very mixed emotions about stripping because stripping got me where I am now,” she said, at age 23, in an industry interview. “I own my own house, I own my own car, I own my own business. My credit is excellent. I have nice furniture and nice things.”

Still, the risks were clear. “I have just seen so many girls that it just ruins them,” she said then, “so many women who are 35, 40 years old and still stripping and have nothing to show for it, and that is just really sad.”

Ms. Clifford chose a more tempestuous stage name than most peers. She was not an Angel, or a Summer, or a Destiny. She was Stormy. And she was blond now.

Often, she kept to herself. Mike South, a director and columnist in the industry press, recalled encountering her in 2004, the year she was named “best new starlet” at the Adult Video News Awards, pornography’s equivalent of the Oscars. “She was sitting in the lobby, alone, and I just decided to be friendly,” said Mr. South, who invited her to a group dinner. “She looks at me and doesn’t crack a smile — expressionless — and says, ‘I am really not that friendly.’”

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Competing at an equestrian event in 2016. “She takes it very personally that she does well,” a horse trainer said.

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RNSvideomedia

Recognition came quickly anyway: awards, magazine spreads, feature roles and a contract with Wicked Pictures, a prominent pornography company. When she needed to, she charmed industry gatekeepers with a disarming wit.

“Are those real?” read a question posted on her website.

“Well,” she said, “you’re certainly not imagining them.”

In 2008, as Jenna Jameson, then the industry’s reigning monarch, announced her retirement at an awards show — “I will never spread my legs in this industry again,” she told the crowd — Ms. Clifford seemed to position herself next in line.

“I love you, Jenna,” Ms. Clifford said, accepting an award from Ms. Jameson moments later, “but I’m going to spread my legs a little longer.”

Other Horizons

It was a striking political slogan: “Screwing People Honestly.” But subtlety was never the idea.

In 2009, well into her turn as a director, Ms. Clifford sensed an opening beyond her typical orbit. David Vitter, a United States senator in her home state of Louisiana, was staggering toward a re-election year, laid low by a prostitution scandal. Ms. Clifford declared herself a Republican (though a Democratic operative was said to be involved in her efforts) and courted wide-scale media attention as she publicly weighed the merits of running. In remarks at the time, she connected her professional journey to the lives of service workers across the state.

“Just as these misguided arbiters of the mainstream view an adult entertainment star as an anathema to the political process,” she said, when she eventually decided against a bid, “so too do they view the dishwasher, the cashier or the bus driver.”

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Ms. Clifford has continued appearing at clubs since the Trump scandal broke, saying it would be foolish to turn down more money than usual for the same work.

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The false-start campaign coincided with a turbulent moment in her personal life, exposing her to scrutiny in the mainstream press. In July 2009, Ms. Clifford was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence after hitting her husband, a performer in the industry, and throwing a potted plant during a fight about laundry and unpaid bills, according to police records. The husband, Michael Mosny, was not injured, and the charge was later dropped. Ms. Clifford had previously been married to another pornographic actor.

She has since married another colleague in the business, Brendon Miller, the father of her now 7-year-old daughter. He is also a drummer and has composed music for her films. The family has been spotted often at equestrian events, where Ms. Clifford, the owner of several horses, has captured blue ribbons. Her preparations can be meticulous, matching her saddle pad with a horse’s bonnet colors.

“She takes it very personally that she does well,” said Dominic Schramm, a horse trainer and rider who has worked with her for several years. “She can be quite hard on herself.”

Ms. Clifford has not shown up at competitions since news broke in January that she accepted a financial settlement in October 2016 — weeks before the election — agreeing to keep quiet about her alleged intimate relationship with Mr. Trump. She has said the affair, which representatives of Mr. Trump have denied, began in 2006 and extended into 2007, the year she married Mr. Mosny.

Earlier this month, she escalated public attention by filing suit, calling the 2016 contract meaningless given that Mr. Trump had never signed it and revealing that the president’s personal lawyer had taken further secret legal action to keep her silent this year.

She has said that she does not want to expose the equestrian world — or her daughter — to the attendant circus trailing her now.

But the show has gone on for Ms. Clifford. She has danced across the country in recent months, from Las Vegas to Long Island. There are many more appearances to come. It would be foolish, she has said, to turn down more money than usual for the same work.

“She likes to maximize her profits,” said Danny Capozzi, an agent who manages her bookings, “not only on the feature dance bookings but at all times.”

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Judd Apatow Puts Garry Shandling Under the Microscope


The many facets of this celebrated but underexamined performer are explored in Mr. Apatow’s documentary “The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling,” a four-and-a-half-hour film that HBO will show in two parts on March 26 and 27.

Mr. Apatow’s film traces its subject’s lifelong process of putting himself under the microscope, an occasionally transcendental journey on which Mr. Shandling became fascinated with Zen Buddhism and kept introspective journals.

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Mr. Shandling, who was fascinated with Zen Buddhism, kept introspective journals, seen here in these excerpts from 2005 and 2002.

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HBO

The documentary is also an unvarnished look at a series of events that took a cumulative toll on Mr. Shandling, including his acrimonious breakup with his ex-fiancée, Linda Doucett; his lawsuit against his powerful ex-manager, Brad Grey; and his discovery that he had been targeted by Anthony Pellicano, the notorious Hollywood private investigator.

“I wanted to do right by Garry,” Mr. Apatow said. “But right by Garry doesn’t mean making Garry look great. It means getting to the truth, because that’s all he ever cared about.”

As a teenager, Mr. Apatow had interviewed Mr. Shandling for his high school radio show; he became a joke writer for him in his early 20s and later a producer for “The Larry Sanders Show.” Over the years, he developed a unifying theory about Mr. Shandling and his work.

“He was fascinated by the ego it takes to be in show business,” Mr. Apatow said. “He was mature enough to see it in other people and in himself. But at the same time, he also had problems with ego and losing yourself in your quest to succeed.”

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Mr. Apatow, who was a producer for “The Larry Sanders Show,” developed over the years a unifying theory about Mr. Shandling and his work.

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Larry Watson/HBO

To create his film, Mr. Apatow delved further into Mr. Shandling’s archival footage, as well as documentary projects Mr. Shandling had pursued and aborted: one on the basketball games he held with other comedians at his house, and one specifically about his diaries.

Mr. Apatow also spoke to many of Mr. Shandling’s confidants, including Ms. Doucett, who had reconciled with him in recent years. “I never stopped loving Garry and I never stopped protecting him, not ever,” Ms. Doucett said.

Even so, Ms. Doucett said she found it challenging to conduct her interview for the documentary at the home she and Mr. Shandling had once shared. “I was still grieving,” she said. “I hadn’t been back there since he died. I’m like, are you kidding? I took an extra Lexapro. My mouth was so freaking dry.”

Mr. Apatow learned crucial details about Mr. Shandling’s upbringing in Tucson, and his devotion to his older brother, Barry, who died of cystic fibrosis when he was 13 and Garry was 10. His mother became inordinately devoted to her surviving son, an obsessiveness that Mr. Shandling often recounted in his stand-up act.

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Mr. Shandling was the creator of two influential TV series: “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” a self-aware deconstruction of the sitcom form, and “The Larry Sanders Show,” a blistering behind-the-scenes look at a fictional late-night program.

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HBO

Colleagues who knew Mr. Shandling during the 1970s and 80s, as he gained recognition as a stand-up and guest host of “The Tonight Show,” said that beneath his stage persona of a neurotic, superficial bachelor was a man with a sincere curiosity about spirituality.

“He was the first person I knew who was into crystals and had a cabin in Big Bear,” said Alan Zweibel, who created “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” with him. “He’d said, ‘Let’s go to that restaurant because it’s got good energy.’”

Whether he was fixated on a routine or a romantic entanglement that he couldn’t get just right, Mr. Shandling could be an exhaustive, exhausting conversationalist.

“He would ask your advice and you’d be up with him until 2, 3 in the morning, thinking that you’d made some sort of point,” Mr. Zweibel said. “And then you’d find out, when you went to sleep, he called somebody else with the same question.”

By the late 1980s Mr. Shandling was in a long-term relationship with Ms. Doucett. With the debut of “The Larry Sanders Show” on HBO in 1992, he seemed to have cemented his reputation as a peerless satirist of Hollywood vanity, and he blithely passed on offers from broadcast networks to host legitimate late-night programs.

But in the ensuing years, it all unraveled. In 1994, Mr. Shandling broke up with Ms. Doucett; he also fired Ms. Doucett from “The Larry Sanders Show,” on which she played the airheaded assistant to the host’s sidekick, portrayed by Jeffrey Tambor. Ms. Doucett sued Mr. Shandling for sex discrimination and sexual harassment, and the case was later settled out of court.

In the fallout from that conflict, Mr. Shandling sued Mr. Grey for $100 million, claiming that Mr. Grey had double-charged him for fees as both his manager and an executive producer of “The Larry Sanders Show.” That case, too, was eventually settled, but as it progressed, Mr. Shandling learned he was being monitored by Mr. Pellicano, who was often employed to dig up dirt in high-profile show-business conflicts.

(In 2008, Mr. Pellicano was convicted on numerous counts, including wiretapping and intimidation, and sentenced to 15 years in prison; he is scheduled to be released next March. Mr. Grey, who testified that he was unaware of Mr. Pellicano’s illegal activities, died in 2017.)

Mr. Shandling, who testified against Mr. Pellicano at his trial, was never the same after these experiences, his friends said.

“It made him so disenchanted with the business and with life, because he saw a side of things that was so ugly,” said Kevin Nealon, the actor and comedian. “And it did damage him. It damaged his optimistic outlook on life.”

Mr. Shandling would still engage in occasional acts of selflessness, like showing up in Hawaii to offer Conan O’Brien emotional support after Mr. O’Brien left “The Tonight Show” in 2010. (“My wife was like, ‘My husband’s off with Garry Shandling, having this romantic getaway,’” Mr. O’Brien recalled.)

But in successive appearances on his talk shows, Mr. O’Brien said he saw Mr. Shandling retreat further into himself.

“Really good artists are self-critical,” Mr. O’Brien said, “but you need the right ratio, where 70 percent is the creative push forward and 30 percent is the self-critical push back.”

He added: “As Garry went on, it would be, O.K., now he’s 50 percent self-critical. Now he’s 60 percent self-critical. He was getting a little enveloped in self-criticism.”

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Mr. Apatow keeps a selection of memorabilia of Mr. Shandling in his Los Angeles office.

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Elizabeth Weinberg for The New York Times

In the final months of his life, Mr. Shandling was given diagnoses of hyperthyroidism and pancreatitis and underwent major surgery. “There were periods where he was foggy,” Mr. Apatow said. “Then he would come out of it and suddenly be hilarious and sharp.”

Many friends and loved ones felt that, in conversations from this time, Mr. Shandling was making his final peace with them. He died on the same day he learned HBO had closed a deal to buy back the rights to “The Larry Sanders Show.”

Mr. O’Brien recalled feeling at Mr. Shandling’s memorial service that, while his TV shows had secured their place in the comedy pantheon, the man behind them still needed to be preserved.

“There’s a danger with Garry that people will forget,” he said. “His work was so good, but it was so specific. There are some icons that take care of themselves when they pass away — there’s a larger institution that carries them on.”

With this documentary, Mr. O’Brien said, “Judd is sticking up for Garry in a way.”

So when Mr. Apatow delivered to HBO a film that was roughly 270 minutes long, the network didn’t flinch, a reflection of how crucial Mr. Shandling and “The Larry Sanders Show” had been in establishing HBO’s legitimacy as a broadcaster.

The series “had a huge catalytic effect in the creative community,” said Richard Plepler, HBO’s chairman and chief executive, who had just started his career there when “Larry Sanders” was in its pilot stage.

“It was a watershed moment in the history of our company,” Mr. Plepler said. “It opened many, many doors for artists to come in and paint on our canvas.”

Mr. Apatow now understands that making “The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling” was a way to work through his grief. Mr. Shandling had been generous and funny, but now, Mr. Apatow found himself yearning for his crankiness, too.

“I used to say working with Garry was like trying to paint with Picasso,” Mr. Apatow said. “And then Picasso would look at you and go, ‘What are you doing? Why aren’t you doing it as well as me?’”

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