Columnist Thomas Quits as Remark Draws Flak

Daily News Article   —   Posted on June 8, 2010

(by Susan Davis, The Wall Street Journal, WSJ.com) – Helen Thomas, the 89-year-old correspondent who joined the White House press corps when John F. Kennedy was president, retired Monday under fire days after saying Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine” and return to Germany, Poland and the U.S.

Her employer, Hearst News Service, announced her retirement effective immediately. Ms. Thomas’s comments appeared Thursday in an online video that quickly went viral.

She apologized Friday on her personal website, saying her words “do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance.”

[A daughter of Lebanese immigrants, Thomas did little to hide her pro-Arab views. During George W. Bush’s presidency, her questions to both the president and his press secretaries were almost exclusively about the war in Iraq.]

During the weekend, a speakers’ bureau dropped Ms. Thomas as a client and a high school pulled her appearance as a commencement speaker. Ex-George W. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer and Clinton ally Lanny Davis were among those calling on her to quit.  …[At his daily briefing, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Monday condemned the comments, calling them “offensive and reprehensible.” Thomas, who has had a front-row seat in the briefing room for many years, was not present.]

Ms. Thomas, the first woman to break into the White House reporting culture, long held a front-row center seat in the White House briefing room. [Working for United Press International, Thomas covered every president since the end of Dwight Eisenhower’s years and was known for her tough questioning. She was the first woman to be an officer of the National Press Club and the first female member and president of the White House Correspondents’ Association.]  A longtime reporter for United Press International, she in 2000 became an opinion columnist for Hearst, where she was free make her political views known. In a 2007 interview, she spoke critically of Ronald Reagan and praised the Clintons’ “resilience.” She was an unabashed critic of the Bush administration and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2005, she quipped that if Vice President Dick Cheney ran for president she would commit suicide.

Write to Susan Davis at susan.davis@wsj.com.

Copyright 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.  Reprinted here for educational purposes only.  Visit the website at wsj.com.

NOTE: Bracketed text from a June 8 AP article posted at sfgate.com.

Questions

1.  Who is Helen Thomas?

2.  What is significant about Mrs. Thomas’ career?

3.  What kind of professional response did Mrs. Thomas receive for her comments that Israel “should get the hell out of Palestine”?

4.  Watch the video of Mrs. Thomas’ interview under “Resources” below. (For the entire interview, see the 2nd video.)  The rabbi asks: “How can Helen possible report unbiased”?  What do you think?  Be specific.

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Background

HELEN THOMAS:

  • Helen Thomas (born August 4, 1920) is an American author and a former news service reporter, Hearst Newspapers columnist, and member of the White House Press Corps.
  • She served for 57 years as a correspondent and, later, White House bureau chief for United Press International (UPI).
  • Thomas covered every president of the United States since the later years of the Eisenhower administration, coming to the forefront with John F. Kennedy.
  • She was the first female officer of the National Press Club, the first female member and president of the White House Correspondents Association, and, in 1975, the first female member of the Gridiron Club. (from wikipedia.org)

WHITE HOUSE PRESS CORPS:

  • The White House Press Corps is the group of journalists or correspondents usually stationed at the White House in Washington, DC to cover the president of the United States, White House events and news briefings. Their offices are located in the West Wing.
  • [As all media, they are supposed to be unbiased.]
  • The White House Press Secretary or a deputy generally holds a weekday news briefing, which takes place in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room. Often a smaller group of reporters known as the White House press pool is assembled to report back to their colleagues on events where the venue would make open coverage logistically difficult.
  • When a new U.S. president is elected, some news organizations change their correspondents, most often to the reporter who had been assigned to cover the new president during the preceding campaign. For example, after the 2008 presidential campaign, ABC News moved Jake Tapper, who had covered Barack Obama during his presidential campaign, to the White House correspondent’s position.
  • Some White House correspondents have come under criticism for not challenging the people they cover more directly and thereby shirking their Fourth Estate responsibility. (from wikipedia.org)

Resources

Watch a video of Mrs. Thomas’ answer to the question “Any comments on Israel?” during the Jewish Heritage Celebration at the White House on May 27, 2010:

 

Watch the entire interview with Mrs. Thomas below: