Time to weigh in on Helen Thomas' demise. Thomas, who covered every president since the second Adams, was undone when the above footage surfaced online of Thomas telling the Jews to "get the hell out of Palestine" and go back to "Poland, Germany ... and America and everywhere else."
I'll discuss in a minute whether Thomas' statement was anti-Semitic -- it was -- but first it's worth looking at the caricature Thomas had long-since become. For this we turn to the master, Jack Shafer, whose deckhead for this 2003 column in the wake of President Bush dissing Thomas was "Helen Thomas used to ask questions in press briefings. Now she makes speeches."
Bush's double dissing of Thomas isn't directly related to his basic contempt for White House beat reporters. Bush ignored Helen Thomas because she is no longer the Helen Thomas of yesteryear, a deadline artist writing news for tens of millions of UPI readers. She left the waning wire in silent protest, after convicted felon Rev. Sun Myung Moon's News World Communications rescued it from collapse in 2000, and took a job at the Hearst News Service. There, Helen Thomas the Pundit writes a sharply partisan syndicated White House column about what she thinks -- as opposed to Helen Thomas the Reporter, who wrote about what she'd learned. How bad is the column? Only a couple of Hearst papers, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Houston Chronicle, publish her pieces with any regularity.
I dare say that if you were Bush or his handlers, you'd pass her over at a press conference, too. Her loathing for Bush is palpable. "This is the worst president ever," she told the Torrance, Calif., Daily Breeze in January. "He is the worst president in all of American history." Though Thomas never masked her crush on Democrats when she worked as a news writer, she comes completely out of the closet in her columns, ripping "Bush's headlong drive into war, his favor-the-rich economic policy and his campaign to put right-wing ideologues on the Supreme Court." As the child of Lebanese immigrants, Thomas knows exactly which religious button she's pushing when she repeatedly condemns Bush's plans for war on Iraq as a "crusade."
But Thomas' opinion columns are a model of restraint when compared with the snarky speeches she delivers in lieu of asking questions at White House briefings
In other words, the only surprise about Thomas' comment was that she had such hate for the Jews. Lanny Davis, the former special counsel to President Clinton, was at least surprised, making an apt comparison about the substance of Thomas' remark:
Davis, not mincing words, dismissed Thomas's apology as "not direct," and -- comparing her statements to "asking Blacks to return to African" -- said that "Helen Thomas, who I used to consider a close friend and who I used to respect, has showed herself to be an anti-Semitic bigot."
She has also revealed to herself to be ignorant at best. Without getting too deep into the intransigent Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Thomas' suggestion first overlooked the fact that there has been a Jewish presence in Jerusalem since the time of Cyrus the Great, 25 centuries ago. More importantly, Thomas could not have chosen a more painfully evocative destination for these Jews that she considers so unwelcome. I find it hard to believe Thomas intended no evocation of cyanide showers.
Of course, criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic. Many great Jews attack Israeli policies all the time. In the past week, for instance, Israel has been eviscerated for its handling of the aid flotilla, which led to nine activists being killed and regional tension skyrocketing. But there is a big difference between saying, for example that the prime minister is too right-wing to find peace with the Palestinians and saying that he can't negotiate peace because he is a Jew and therefore the leader of an illegitimate nation.
Here we find another element of Shafer's 2003 column that suggests Thomas has long felt differently about Jews -- or at least Israelis -- than others. Shafer noted that at several press briefings before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Thomas asked "questions" of press secretary Ari Fleischer like:
Thomas: At an earlier briefing, Ari, you said that the president deplored the taking of innocent lives. Does that apply to all innocent lives in the world? Fleischer: Well, Helen -- Thomas: And I have a follow-up. Fleischer: -- I refer specifically to a horrible terrorist attack in Tel Aviv that killed scores and wounded hundreds. And the president, as he said in a statement yesterday, deplores in the strongest terms the taking of those lives and the wounding of those people, innocents in Israel. Thomas: My follow-up is, why does he want to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis?
Indeed, at a 1991 press briefing with Bush's father, Thomas suggested that Israel, which was not a party to the first Gulf War, got what one should expect when Saddam sent some scud missiles their way.
And the Society for Professional Journalists wants to keep honoring this woman with a lifetime achievement award carrying her name? Granted, the SPJ isn't much of an organization these days -- it's no RNA or, I'd say, even LA Press Club -- but ... really?
It's a shock Helen Thomas lasted this long. Writing for FOXNews.com before Thomas retired Monday, Judith Miller, who had her own journalistic ethics issues, sheds a little light on what kept Thomas in the front row of the White House press room even after her devolution into opinioneering:
Thomas' colleagues in White House press corps, however, have tended to be more forgiving of the 89-year-old press corps dean. They wink and nod with "there she goes again" forbearance, patronizing her by overlooking her increasingly anti-Semitic, ignorant rants.
Some "peacemakers" in the media, it seems, are determined to give free speech a bad name. And too many of us say nothing when they claim a right to have their own biases, as well as their own facts.
No more, at least not for Helen Thomas. Of course, her retirement brings with it an uncomfortable resolution for Jews. Who do you think anti-Semites are blaming for Thomas' demise?