Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Here's the thing about Helen Thomas

If you haven't heard the news yet, White House reporter and columnist Helen Thomas has announced her resignation, effective immediately. This is in response to comments she made about Jews getting out of Palestine; you can hear the comment straight from her mouth here. I'm not going to spend much time on her comment except to say I think it speaks for itself and I don't necessarily agree with it, but I think she had a point to be made, even if it is one that not all would agree with, and she made it poorly. She also apologized. The reaction to her comment has mostly been a collective of outrage, and I think we can all understand why.

But in that collective outrage is a lot of sexist, ageist crap. And here's the thing about Helen Thomas: She has been hearing that sexist crap her entire career (and I would venture to say even before that), and she has been hearing the ageist crap for probably two decades now, and she still showed up to work and went about her business of being Helen Thomas. (Who thinks being Helen Thomas has been easy? Anyone?) Thomas has been vilified for years just for her looks alone, let alone for her opinions. And in this story about her comment, no one seems to talk about Thomas' work, which one might think would be relevant in this discussion. Does she do good work? Has she done good work? Who knows? Who cares? Apparently no one criticizing her for what she said. Look at this column, the author of which says that Thomas is a "nasty piece of work and has been a nasty piece of work for decades" .... and then offers one piddly example to back up such an outrageous claim. Surely if she's so "nasty" there would be all sorts of examples of how and why? Then I see people talking about how she's a reporter and she can't be biased and be a reporter (like the video link above says) ... except she's been a columnist for what, a decade now, give or take? Columnists are not reporters. Columnists get paid for their opinions. Just so we're clear. (Also? This business about complaining about her front row seat? You all sound like petulant children. Except worse.)

Here's how I'm seeing this right about now: one hateful comment basically gets Thomas fired. Many, many hateful comments lead to millions of dollars and contract after contract for Beck, Limbaugh, Savage, Hannity, Buchanan, etc. Why is that? What is the difference between saying the Jews should get out of Palestine and saying the (black) President of the United States is akin to Hitler? Is it who's saying it? Is it who it offends?

In any case, I do hope that we can all pay tribute to Thomas' Career Before the Comment, because it is a career worth celebrating. In her career, which started almost 70 years ago, Thomas:
  • Served for fifty-seven years as a correspondent
  • Was White House bureau chief for United Press International for more than 25 years
  • Thomas covered every president of the United States since the later years of the Eisenhower administration
  • Was the first female officer of the National Press Club
  • Was the first female member and president of the White House Correspondents Association
  • Was the first female member of the Gridiron Club
  • Has written five books
  • Was the only female print journalist to travel to China with President Richard Nixon during his historic trip in 1972.
Those are just some of the highlights. There is absolutely no question that she helped pave the way for a number of woman journalists, and I don't want us to forget that.

More reading:
  • Glenn Greenwald: "Our hard-core, adversarial press corps."
  • The Washington Post has a photo gallery of Thomas' career.
  • The War Room: "The right's Helen Thomas hypocrisy." (This is excellent)
  • The Moderate Voice: "Helen Thomas to retire," a round-up of reactions.
  • Media Matters: "Time for Pat Buchanan to retire, too." This is a new article, but not new news in that people have been calling for this for a while. Rightfully so.
  • Media Matters: "So when is Ari Fleischer going to call for the firing of Limbaugh and Beck?"
  • Broadsheet: "Helen Thomas: Our heroes are human."


Jane said...

I agree with many of your points. As a matter of fact, I used to work at UPI 30 years ago and looked up to Helen Thomas (though I never met her).

That said, I find her recent remarks reprehensible and NOT pardonable as merely being her "opinion." She didn't just say that Jews should get out of Palestine ("get the HELL out of Palestine" were her actual words); she said they should go HOME to Germany and Poland. Excuse me?? That's like yelling at black people here in America to "go HOME to Africa"!

Germany and Poland are no more "home" to the second- and third-generation Israelis born in Israel who grew up speaking Hebrew (even if their grandparents and great-grandparents were driven out of Germany and Poland... or killed before they could make it out) than Africa is "home" to the second- and third-generation black Americans born here who grew up speaking English (even if their grandparents and great-grandparents were brought from Africa in the holds of ships and sold as slaves). That's just STUPID and IGNORANT ... and stupidity and ignorance have no place in serious journalism, whether you're a reporter or a columnist.

It's also racist ... and shockingly so, from someone who was born in America of a Lebanese father. By her own reasoning, Helen Thomas should just go HOME to Lebanon. (And by the way, let's just ignore the fact that Jews have been living in Palestine for thousands of years, even before there WAS an Israel.)

I don't expect any better of Limbaugh, Buchanan, etc. ... but I did of Helen Thomas. Way more than anger, what I experienced upon hearing her remarks was utter embarrassment and sadness.

Rosie said...

Jane, I understand taking complete offense to Thomas' remarks, I really do. I'm honestly not trying to excuse what she said.

But I disagree with your point about Limbaugh, Buchanan, etc. These men (and the etc. men), and I'd put Coulter in with this group too, have said so many offensive things that aren't just offensive, but also completely and factually incorrect, and no one does anything about it. No one in any official capacity anywhere calls for these people to apologize, no one calls for them to be fired, nothing. Instead, they get more money and renewed contracts. People might want to say "it's just for show" or "they aren't serious" or "but it's commentary!" and still, all that does is excuse things like defending Hitler (in Buchanan's case) or implying or saying Obama is Muslimg/African and should probably "go home." How many tea party signs say just that? And who supports the tea parties? Glenn Beck/Fox News. Flat out financing tea party gatherings.

I do not understand why all of those "etc." people get free pass after free pass for their complete BS, and meanwhile this awful comment from someone who has far less reach and recognition than a Beck or Limbaugh, is forced into retirement. I'm not even saying she should still be employed, because I get how offensive her comment is. I'm asking why didn't she "get away with it" when others do, on a daily basis.

Madama said...

Anytime anyone says "those people should go back to where they came from," you can be sure you are hearing HATE SPEECH. Period. I don't care if the hate speech is uttered by a Nobel prize winner or a garrulous journalist with an otherwise impressive record. Hate speech needs to be called out for what it is and, furthermore, we need to understand why people use it. Helen Thomas is Lebanese--that's the clue to her venom. It's part of the horrible truth of Israel that its neighbors hate it for being established in the first place. As a secular Jew who has never even been to Israel (although family members have), I absolutely wither everytime Israel receives worldwide condemnation without historical context...this story should never be told as if Jews decided on their own to colonize Palestine. Jews were forced to leave those places Helen Thomas thinks they should return to. A truly ahistorical remark by an educated person is HATE SPEECH.

Rosie said...

Yes, I get that. What I don't get is why some people are singled out for hate speech and fired as a result, and others get to make millions off their hate speech.

MadamaAmbi said...

Probably because she doesn't have a show and a following and isn't bringing in the big advertising bucks for some conglomerate...


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