Oldspeak “A trailblazer and truthsayer goes a bridge too far, and gets the Guillotine. The only voice in the White House Press Corps that challenged the Corporatocracy; silenced. Isn’t there room for someone who made a mistake, apologized for it and wants to continue speaking truth to power and asking tough questions?”
From Katrina vanden Heuvel @ The Washington Post:
Columnist Helen Thomas, a trailblazer for women journalists and one of the few in the White House press corps who courageously questioned President Bush and other officials in his administration on war, torture and U.S. policy toward Israel, announced her retirementMonday. It comes in the wake of a controversy triggered by offensive comments she made about Jews and Israel last week.
It is a sad ending to a legendary career. Thomas was the dean of the White House press corps and served for 57 67 years as a UPI correspondent and White House Bureau Chief, covering every president since John F. Kennedy. During the run-up to the Iraq war, Thomas was the only accredited White House correspondent with the guts to ask Bush the tough questions that define a free press.
In March 2006, Thomas wrote a piece for The Nation, “Lap Dogs of the Press” — a scathing indictment of the country’s leading print and broadcast media. She argued that the media could have saved lives if it had questioned the Bush administration’s pronouncements. Instead, the media became, with a very few exceptions, an echo chamber for the White House. “Two of the nation’s most prestigious newspapers,” Thomas wrote, “The New York Times and The Washington Post, kept up a drumbeat for war with Iraq…. They accepted almost unquestioningly the bogus evidence of weapons of mass destruction, the dubious White House rationale that proved to be so costly on a human scale, not to mention a drain on the Treasury…. [And] both newspapers played into the hands of the administration.”
Thomas opened many doors for women journalists; she was the first woman officer of the National Press Club after it opened its doors to women members, the first woman member and president of the White House Correspondents Association and the first woman member of the Gridiron club. In 1998, Thomas was honored by President Clinton as the first recipient of the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award. She will mark her 90th birthday on Aug. 4.
None of these prestigious firsts or awards protected Thomas from the firestorm that followed her remarks. Time columnist Joe Klein wrote that Thomas should be stripped of her privileged seat in the White House briefing room. Her remarks were offensive, but considering her journalistic moxie and courage over many decades — in sharp contrast to the despicable deeds committed by so many littering the Washington political scene — isn’t there room for someone who made a mistake, apologized for it and wants to continue speaking truth to power and asking tough questions?
From The UK Telegraph:
Ms Thomas was the longest-serving reporter in the White House. She has spent most of her career working for United Press International wire service, but had been working as a columnist for Hearst newspapers since 2000. She has also written five books.
In an interview on 27 May, she said that Israelis should get “the hell out of Palestine” and suggested they went to Germany, Poland or the US.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said her comments were “offensive and reprehensible”. She has since apologised.
Thomas started working for United Press International in 1943, rising to become their White House bureau chief.
She was the only member of the White House press corps to have her own chair in the White House press room. All other chairs are assigned to media outlets.
She covered every presidency since the later years of President Eisenhower’s administration, and became the first female officer of the National Press Club.
Ms Thomas, a daughter of Lebanese immigrants, began covering the White House for the wire service in 1960. Fiercely competitive, she became the first female White House bureau chief for a news service in 1974. She was also the first female officer at the National Press Club, where women had once been barred as members.
“Helen was just a vacuum cleaner about information,” said author Kay Mills, who took dictation from Ms Thomas as a young UPI staffer and wrote A Place In The News: From The Women’s Pages To The Front Page.
“She made sure she had everything. She may have been covering Jackie Kennedy and a birthday party for one of the children, but I’ll tell you, the desk had every bit of information it ever needed.”
When the Watergate scandal began consuming Richard Nixon’s presidency, Martha Mitchell, the notoriously unguarded wife of the attorney general, would call Ms Thomas late at night to unload her frustrations at what she saw as the betrayal of her husband, John, by the president’s men.
Ms Thomas retained her place on the front row of the White House briefing room after joining Hearst in 2000 and remained persistent to the point of badgering.
She aggressively questioned George Bush junior and his press secretaries about the war in Iraq, which many of his supporters said would make Israel safer by ridding the Middle East of Saddam Hussein.
She gave Barack Obama similar handling about Afghanistan just two weeks ago: “Mr President, when are you going to get out of Afghanistan? Why are you continuing to kill and die there? What is the real excuse? And don’t give us this Bushism, ‘If we don’t go there, they’ll all come here’,” she said.
Writing on her website, Ms Thomas said, “I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heartfelt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognise the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.”