White House Correspondent Helen Thomas announces her retirement following controversial comments last week saying the Jews go home to Germany and Poland because Israel is occupying the area the Arabs call Palestine. From Times of London:
It is always dangerous for a reporter to become the story. For Helen Thomas, two months before her 90th birthday, it has meant the end of her career.
The daughter of Lebanese immigrants who could neither read nor write, Ms Thomas was covering the White House 11 years before its current spokesman was born. Yesterday she resigned in disgrace after telling a Jewish online news service that Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home”.
In the final outburst of a career spanning seven decades and ten presidents, Ms Thomas appeared not to know, or not to care, that she was talking to a rabbi on the day of the White House’s official celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month last week.
“Any comments on Israel?” she was asked. “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine,” she replied.
Prompted to say something more positive in the spirit of the occasion, the 89 year-old dean of the White House Press Corps said: “Remember, these people are occupied and it’s their land. It’s not Germans’. It’s not Poland’s.”
The tone seen as anti-Semitic:
Her remarks were scarcely reported at first, but when posted on the Drudge Report website at the weekend they provoked a storm of controversy in which outraged accusations of anti-Semitism quickly drowned out defenders of free speech.
Thomas issued a written apology:
Ms Thomas issued a blanket apology on Sunday, saying she deeply regretted comments that did not reflect her heartfelt hopes for peace in the Middle East through “mutual respect and tolerance”, but her statement came too late.
Criticism came swiftly:
Yesterday Robert Gibbs, President Obama’s spokesman, called her remarks offensive and reprehensible.
Addressing a White House briefing room in which Ms Thomas was conspicuously absent from her normal front-row seat, Mr Gibbs added: “Obviously those remarks do not reflect the opinions of most of the people in here, and certainly not of the Administration.”
Mr Bush’s former press secretary, Ari Fleischer, led calls over the weekend for her to be fired. He accused her of advocating “religious cleansing” and argued that “if a journalist, or a columnist, said the same thing about blacks or Hispanics they would already have lost their jobs”.
By yesterday morning Ms Thomas had been dropped by her speaker’s bureau, disowned by the co-author of her latest book and called an “anti-Semitic bigot” by Lanny Davis, a former close friend and Clinton administration lawyer.
Her resignation as a columnist for the Hearst newspaper group announces minutes later.
Thomas has writing her column for Universal Press International (a/k/a UPI) since President Harry S. Truman won re-election in 1948.
Thomas has always asked president and press secretary tough questions see this exchange between Thomas and former President George W. Bush:
No administration felt the sharp end of her questioning more frequently than that of the younger President Bush, whom she described in the run-up to the Iraq war as “the worst president in American history”. At Mr Bush’s next press conference she was seated in the back row and not called on to ask a question.
She later received a conciliatory note from Mr Bush and was reinstated in the front row, where her first question for the President was: “Why did we go to war?” As she later told an interviewer: “Again I was in the dog house. Deep freeze this time.”
There are defenders standing by Helen Thomas:
She was not entirely without defenders. Joe Lockhart, President Clinton’s former spokesman, said: “I hope we are strong enough as a country to sustain voices that are wrong, voices that offend, even voices that incite.”
I don’t think Helen Thomas should resign due to 1st Amendment rights. I understand her anger being Lebanese Arab colored her views. I do believe Helen Thomas is anti-Semitic and the truth finally came out. It’s sad to see her go she out lived her time.
Bus she made history including the first woman columnist to be accepted in the prestigious Gridion Club.