I am not going to try and defend the comments Helen Thomas made about getting the Jews out of Palestine and sending them to Germany and Poland; that was an unbelievably stupid thing to say, not just to a rabbi, but to anyone. Thomas is a Lebanese-American with very strong views on Israel, views to which she has every right, but in saying what she said, she abrogated two responsibilities: first, to treat others as she would want to be treated, and second, to avoid undercutting the legitimacy of her own views with incendiary, insulting and inappropriate vitriol. Thomas blew it on both fronts, and her words became torpedoes that struck the ship of her career at the waterline.
Perhaps, it is entirely just and appropriate that her comments have finished her as a journalist, but that is an argument for other people to make. In this space, I come to praise Helen Thomas, not to bury her. There are plenty of voices in the so-called “mainstream” media who gleefully shouted her down after her ill-advised tirade, a lot of whom are now very happy to see her gone. You see, Helen Thomas was and remains a mirror held up to the rest of the press, forcing them to see their own glaring flaws and faults, forcing them to see just how much blood is on their hands.
I refuse, I absolutely refuse, to let this one incident become the thing everyone remembers about Helen Thomas. That would be a sin equally as great as the one she committed with her words, and it would give cover to the mainstream press cretins who always wished she would go away, because she exposed them for what they really are.
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Frauds. Mouthpieces. Dupes. Willing participants. Colluders. Conspirators. Traitors. That’s what much of the press has become over the last ten years, but not Thomas. Never Thomas. Much of the outrage directed at Thomas today isn’t based on her comments about Israel, but are, instead, a barbaric yawp from a pack of liars who are thrilled to see her gone, as it means they no longer have to look at themselves in that mirror she held up with her life, her career and her uncompromising way of speaking actual truth to power.
It was articles like this by Thomas that made her colleagues in the media squirm and blush, and well they should, because in this, she was exactly correct:
Of all the unhappy trends I have witnessed – conservative swings on television networks, dwindling newspaper circulation, the jailing of reporters and “spin” – nothing is more troubling to me than the obsequious press during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. They lapped up everything the Pentagon and White House could dish out – no questions asked.
The naive complicity of the press and the government was never more pronounced than in the prelude to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The media became an echo chamber for White House pronouncements. One example: At President Bush’s March 6, 2003, news conference, in which he made it eminently clear that the United States was going to war, one reporter pleased the “born again” Bush when she asked him if he prayed about going to war. And so it went.
After all, two of the nation’s most prestigious newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post, had kept up a drumbeat for war with Iraq to bring down dictator Saddam Hussein. 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. The Post was much more hawkish than the Times – running many editorials pumping up the need to wage war against the Iraqi dictator – but both newspapers played into the hands of the Administration.
Like Helen Thomas, I was one of the reporters out there who strenuously pushed back against the war rhetoric from the Bush White House, rhetoric which was inevitably parroted and amplified by the mainstream media. Unlike Helen Thomas, I made very little headway in altering the narrative. Thomas, from her front-row seat in the press room, was a very public thorn in the side of every Bush press secretary who tried to sell the public a bill of rotten goods.
Had the press and the Bush administration paid heed to Helen Thomas, there would not be 5,000 new graves at Arlington National Cemetery. There would not be 40,000 plus wounded American soldiers. There would not be thousands and thousands more suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments, who are unable to get proper treatment from an over-stressed Veterans Affairs’ system. There would not have been soldiers left to rot in Walter Reed. There would not be more than a million dead and maimed Iraqis. The Sunnis would not have been massacred, and Iran would not now be in full control of Iraq. There would not have been hundreds of billions of our tax dollars poured into the sand and into the coffers of Bush-friendly “defense” contractors; they call our current economic situation the “Great Recession,” but by rights, it should be called the “Iraq Recession,” and it would not be as bad as it is had we listened to Helen Thomas.
Perhaps, these things were inevitable. Bush and his crew wanted a war, and if the entire press corps had been made up of Helen Thomas clones, it is entirely possible we would have wound up mired in that filthy conflict anyway. But Thomas tried when her colleagues did not. Thomas asked sharp questions when her colleagues refused. Thomas wrote the truth when her colleagues reprinted Bush administration talking points to protect their seats in the press room. Helen Thomas was right, did right, just as she has done with every administration since John F. Kennedy.
One stupid comment cannot wash away 60 years of credibility and honor. One stupid comment cannot wash away the fight she waged against the Bush administration’s criminal campaign in Iraq. One stupid comment cannot wash away the fact that, by her very existence, Helen Thomas exposed the mainstream media for what they are, and no matter how vigorously they jump on her today, they all know the blood remains on their hands.
I am sorry she said what she did. It was very stupid, and perhaps even justifies the termination of her six-decade career. That, as I said, is for others to decide. I stand today to remind any and all that one bad act does not erase a lifetime of excellence. She is gone, and perhaps rightly so, but we were a better country while she labored for us, when she asked the tough questions, when she stood before the powerful and called them liars to their faces.
Thank you, Helen Thomas. For everything.