Kashif Hafeez Siddiqui

Veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas quits at 89 after Israel outburst

In I Hate USA on June 8, 2010 at 9:54 am

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.”

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.

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. 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.”

Her resignation as a columnist for the Hearst newspaper group was announced minutes later.

Ms Thomas, who shares a birthday with Mr Obama, was photographed next to him in her customary seat on her last birthday, with a presidential arm round her shoulder and a gift of White House cupcakes in her lap.

For most of her career, presidents have regarded her more with wary respect than with affection.

She was an avowed admirer of President Kennedy, admitting in later years that she wept as she phoned in her story on his assassination from one of the White House payphones to her then employer, the UPI news agency. But Mr Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, called her “a mixture of acupuncture and journalism”.

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.”

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.

She had also agreed not to give a graduation ceremony address as planned at a high school in suburban Maryland where one parent predicted she would have been booed off the stage.

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.”

Ms Thomas appears to have been enraged by the Obama Administration’s largely passive response to the killing of nine people in a Turkish flotilla bound for Gaza ten days ago – and by what she considered her colleagues’ timid reporting of that response.

The question of pro-Israeli bias in American reporting of the Middle East had resurfaced in the aftermath of the flotilla attack, when questions were raised by both Palestinians and the Public Editor of the New York Times about the newspaper’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Ethan Bronner, whose son serves in the Israeli Defence Forces.

So far the paper has resisted calls for Mr Bronner to be reassigned.

Asked in 2008 what she thought of the rest of the White House press corps, she said she hoped it would eventually emerge from its collective coma.

The wit and wisdom of Helen Thomas

“I think I’ll work all my life. When you’re having fun, why stop having fun?”

Unsourced, but widely published quote

“You said that the President deplored the taking of innocent lives. Does that apply to all innocent lives in the world? And I have a follow-up… My follow-up is, why does he want to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis?”

From a question to Ari Fleischer, George W. Bush’s spokesman, at the daily press briefing in 2003

“This is the worst President ever. [George W. Bush] is the worst President in all of American history.”

From a January 2003 Society for Professional Journalism event when Ms Thomas thought she was off the record

“The day Dick Cheney is going to run for president, I’ll kill myself. All we need is another liar… ”

“You don’t spread democracy through the barrel of a gun.”

In an interview with Jon Stewart of The Daily Show in June 2006

“Every president hates the Press. Every president thinks that all information that comes to the White House is their private preserve after they all promise an open administration on the campaign trail.”

In an April 2004 interview with The Majority Report

“Both Blair and Bush have been found lacking in their credibility. Usually by this time a government would have fallen. I covered two presidents, LBJ and Nixon, who could no longer convince, persuade, or govern, once people had decided they had no credibility, but we seem to be more tolerant now of what I think we should not tolerate.”

From the same April 2004 Majority Report interview

“There’s no accountability for a blogger. They can ruin lives, reputations, and once you send something into the air, it’s going to land, and there’s nothing that can curb them from saying anything they want. Everybody with a laptop thinks they’re a journalist, and everybody with a cellphone thinks they’re a photographer.”

Source : http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article7145664.ece

  1. awareness about Palestine and Israel issue is growing exponentially in US. Opposition to the Israeli Lobby in US is growing too.

  2. awareness about Palestine and Israel issue is growing exponentially in US. Opposition to the Israeli Lobby in US is growing too.

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