This is a guest post by AKUS
I’ve been asked to comment on the disgraceful episode that ended Helen Thomas’ career which started at UPI in 1943. But what is there to say that hasn’t already by countless bloggers? The video clip of her hate-filled words and the dozens of blogs and thousands of comments to those blogs has swept aside far more serious matters. The Guardian alone, always eager to seize on anything at all that might somehow show Israel in a bad light (because this antisemite was sacked) appears by my account to have published four articles about a woman who is probably unknown to most of their readers.
As horrible as this woman is, in reality she is not the world’s greatest problem. Nevertheless, I found the articles and many of the comments on the Guardian’s website and elsewhere very revealing of the grudge against the Jewish people that she has apparently been carrying from childhood as the daughter of Lebanese immigrants to the USA and how eager some are to excuse her for it.
A brief disclosure is in order – I once sat next to Helen Thomas on a flight from DC to NY and I was shocked by the sheer ugliness of this woman. It’s true we are not responsible for our looks – I am no Cary Grant, for example – but hers is not a face you would like to have peering out at you on a dark and stormy night. So perhaps my views are colored by this personal experience.
One of the objections I have to the whole brouhaha being kicked up by those who seem dismayed by her dismissal is that it seems very likely that some of her new and fiercest admirers actually had never heard of her till a few days ago. Here is a rather startling example:
From a blog called “gotitfirst” which claims on its “About Us” page:
GotitFirst is one of the Internet’s leading sources for fresh news.Our website is assumed to cover international burning stories that affect the social system.
Our team of contributors and editors produce 0nly high quality news and we are determined to publish fresh and outstanding news from all around the world.
If you are a passionate and dedicated journalist and you want to bring your contribution to our quality news source please contact us.We are anxious to hear about your skills and welcome you in our team!
Despite their desire to reveal the naked truth we find that the good folks at “gotitfirst” believe, perhaps based on the photograph they chose to accompany their article mourning her departure, that Helen Thomas is a male journalist . It’s true that the picture makes her look like a viable candidate to take on Jesse Ventura in the ring, but this really is a low blow:
I have already admitted that I found her unattractive, but this is surely taking things too far. Fortunately, in their pursuit of “revealing the naked truth” they did not offer us an unclothed picture of Mr. or Ms. Thomas from, say, Playboy 1953, in an effort to validate his or her gender for us.
You may think this going a bit far, but it is really quite illustrative of the level of commentary around this issue by some in the CiFer community, including a whole bunch of fresh …er, faces? – waxing indignant at the treatment meted out to this lady for her racist remarks about Jews. This episode also provided the ignorant with a remarkable opportunity to claim that it shows the limits of free speech in America, primarily or solely because her views referenced those who control America, the Jews, and Israel, even though she has not actually been hanged from a crane in a public square for her comments.
Before I get to some of the examples in the threads to the Guardian’s articles – and the Guardian, as always, is so generous in supplying us with material it’s hard to choose – I might mention the support Thomas received from someone I had never heard of till last Friday night – Katrina vanden Heuvel. She is the editor, publisher, and part-owner of the magazine The Nation and spent a fair amount of time on the Bill Maher show disputing Maher’s support for Israel and applauding Andrew Sullivan’s over the top comments about the Mavi Marmara affair (including the utterly false statement that some people were shot four times in the head). Suddenly she seems to be all over the place.
Excusing Thomas in a manner similar to the way a number of others have (e.g. Greenslade in the Guardian ), vanden Heuvel wrote in the Washington Post (the correction in the text is hers or the Post’s):
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.
Vanden Heuvel then listed prestigious awards that have been granted to Thomas, followed by:
None of these prestigious firsts or awards protected Thomas from the firestorm that followed her remarks.
And this is the crux of the issue – people like vanden Heuvel objecting to others’ disapproval of Thomas’ remarks about Israeli Jews in a way she would never do if Thomas had said:
“Mexicans – get the hell out of Arizona”
“African Americans – get the hell back to Africa”
Or, if someone had turned around and said to Thomas “Get the hell back to Lebanon”
Yet those who knew her well in the Washington Press Corps who had kept their mouths shut for decades were now coming forth with articles demonstrating that her antisemitism and hatred of Israel were, not to put too fine a point on it, legendary in Washington:
Richard Cohen – What Helen Thomas missed:
Thomas, of Lebanese ancestry and almost 90, has never been shy about her anti-Israel views, for which, as far as I’m concerned, she is wrong and to which she is entitled. Then the other day, she performed a notable public service by revealing how very little she knew …
Dan Kennedy – Assistant Professor of Journalism at North Eastern University – Helen Thomas: good riddance to a garden-variety anti-Semite:
Yet how different was it, really, from Thomas’s statement of last week (it would be hard to call it a question) that the Israeli military’s attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla was “a deliberate massacre“? The flotilla incident could be called many things – a tragic miscalculation, a hubristic blunder, a disaster that could and should bring down Israel’s intransigent rightwing government. …
In fact, Boston University journalism professor Robert Zelnick told Politico that Thomas’s “bias regarding Israel has long been known to anyone – including this commentator – who has spent five minutes in her company.” Zelnick, a former ABC News reporter, is someone I know and trust.
Kennedy reports her retort to George Bush Sr. when she implied that Iraq’s Scud attacks on Israel were justified by the US invasion of Iraq in Desert Storm thus implying that Israel was a partner in that campaign, even though Israel stayed completely on the sidelines at America’s urging.
However Kennedy misses an interesting side-light:
Thomas, to her credit, quit UPI in 2000 after it was acquired by a company controlled by the reverend Sun Myung Moon.
That is true. But what Kennedy does not mention is that prior to the acquisition by the Moonies, the agency had been bought by an Arab group which intended, in those pre-Al Jazeera days, to make it the cornerstone for a massive new media empire (I participated in a large consulting assignment at that time and learned quite a lot about UPI’s curious history and the new owners and their plans). It had always puzzled me why a distinguished reporter like Thomas stayed on with such dubious and agenda-driven owners, when so many others abandoned the agency. Clearly, her Lebanese ancestry and her anti-Israeli views made it a comfortable spot for her.
Chris McGreal in Helen Thomas, veteran reporter: why she had to resign had the following throwaway line which indicates how well her bias, and that of other reporters of Arab ancestry, is known:
[Sam] Donaldson, who describes Thomas as a friend, said that while he would not defend her comments they probably reflect the views of many people of Arab descent. He then called her a “pioneer” for women. “No one can take that away from Helen,” he said.
Yes, she was a pioneer for women – but perhaps not quite the role model we were led to believe. Her comments “probably reflect the views of many people of Arab descent”. That’s OK then.
What I found particularly shocking about her remarks is that they came from someone who was active as a young reporter during WW II. Her biography on Wikipedia says she started as a cub reporter with UPI in 1943. Even though she was not reporting on the war itself, she was active in the media when the facts of the Holocaust were coming to light. She saw the nations of the time stunned into awarding the Jews who survived the Holocaust a largely barren strip of land about the size of New Jersey along the shores of the Mediterranean in recognition of Jewish historic linkage to that small area and the genocide that had been inflicted upon the Jewish people.
The Holocaust and the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries apparently made no impression on our then young reporter, who nursed the antisemitism she must have inherited from her immigrant parents even though she herself was born in Kentucky, USA. Racism is inherently an expression of ignorance, and when Thomas says that Israelis should go back to German and Poland and America it reveals such breathtaking ignorance and bias that it is almost incomprehensible. Surely, as someone actively covering world affairs for decades, she should know that most of today’s Israelis, by far, are born in Israel and did not come from those countries? Moreover, a large proportion, perhaps a majority, came from Arab countries, and a large contingent came from Russia> The number of Jews living in Israel today who actually came from Germany or Poland can only be a handful, and even the Americans probably number a few hundred thousand at most out of 5 million Jewish Israelis .
Looking at the thread accompanying Kennedy’s article in the Guardian, we see that 82 people agree with “proudlycynical” that old people being antisemitic is OK:
Then, rather than facing the fact that Thomas is clearly anti-Semitic, “markinmanc” and 202 supporters try to deny it and accuse Kennedy of saying something shocking!!
On Richard Adam’s blog in the Guardian Helen Thomas to retire after ‘offensive and reprehensible’ remarks we had a remembrance of good times past:
Yes – the deep nostalgia for those glorious days when Jews lived where God expected them to – in Germany and Poland … followed by a fond farewell for the glorious way she left, firing off her tirade against the Jews in Israel:
In all honesty, her remarks don’t bother me that much. What I find more dispiriting is the way some of the authors of the various blogs and columns, and those commenting in the threads, will twist and turn to excuse her. They will even use the fig leaf of pretending to have a sudden and deep concern for what this means for freedom of speech (nothing – she may well now have her own blog or turn up on any number of antisemitic web sites). As long as she is only talking about Jews, they will find excuses for her words. But what happens when the next Helen Thomas decides that it’s time for the Muslims in America to “get the hell out”? Will they find the same excuses and desire to protect “freedom of speech”? Or will they rush to their keyboards with cries of “racist”, “Islamophobia” and all the rest of the litany which passes for thought in that community? And if then, why not now?