Feature

Helen Thomas: Will she be missed?

Veteran White House reporter and columnist Helen Thomas was forced to retire at the age of 89 after she was caught on camera making anti-Semitic remarks.

“Our heroes are not infallible,” said Anna Clark in Salon.com. We were taught this hard lesson again this week when veteran White House reporter and columnist Helen Thomas was forced to retire at the age of 89 after she was caught on camera opining that Israeli Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “Go home [to] Germany, Poland, America, and everywhere else.” What “a sad ending to a legendary career,” said Katrina vanden Heuvel in TheNation.com. Not only did Thomas blaze a trail for women in the once all-male world of the Washington press corps. In the run-up to the disastrous invasion of Iraq, Thomas was the “only accredited White House correspondent with the guts” to aggressively question the Bush administration’s trumped-up rationale for war.

Thomas’ questioning was certainly aggressive, said Jonathan Chait in The New Republic Online. She could always be counted on to launch “left-wing broadsides” at President Bush, demand­ing to know why he was so bent on killing Iraqi women and children or turning American society into a theocracy. But for most of her career, at UPI, Thomas’ work was undistinguished, and when she became a Hearst newspaper columnist that no one read, she indulged herself in belligerent questions that couldn’t be answered. Thomas clearly was also no student of history, said Richard Cohen in The Washington Post. If she were, she might know that thousands of Jewish people did try to “go home” to Poland and Germany after World War II, only to find themselves massacred again by the Poles, and rounded up in “displaced persons” camps in Germany. The world’s solution to that appalling reality was the state of Israel. In exiting the stage, Thomas—a Lebanese-American who’s never been shy about her anti-Israel views—has left us with “a teachable moment” about Israel and anti-Semitism.

It was clearly time for Thomas to go, said Dana Milbank in The Washington Post. Still, she will be missed. Today, too many Washington reporters are social climbers who cozy up to White House officials, and see questioning the president as a chance to grab some TV time. No one, perhaps, will duplicate Thomas’ “crabby, unrelenting hostility in the briefing room”—toward both Republicans and Democrats. But the media needs more journalists who share her core belief that “anybody standing on that podium should be regarded with skepticism.”

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