Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The latest victim of the Flotilla is...Helen Thomas

"I’m a liberal, I was born a liberal, and I will be a liberal till the day I die. "
Helen Thomas on her personal politics in 2004.

"Hearst should’ve retired her a couple of years ago, honestly, but she occupies some weird place between history and “the liberal bloggers love her for saying what every liberal blog commenters loves to type.”

This week the seemingly indestructible Helen Thomas met her match. She survived an all-male press corps, she survived the McCarthy period, she survived several international trips with Nixon, a power grab by the Moonies, and a notoriously combative relationship with both Bush administrations. Anyone who shrugs off her de-facto forced retirement should marvel that she's still standing today after several shockingly frank interactions with the second Bush administration, like this one, in which she basically tells Ari Fleisher point blank that Dubya is an illegitimate President:

THOMAS: Would the President attack innocent Iraqi lives?

FLEISCHER: The President wants to make certain that he can defend our country, defend our interests, defend the region, and make certain that American lives are not lost.

THOMAS: And he thinks they are a threat to us?

FLEISCHER: There is no question that the President thinks that Iraq is a threat to the United States.

THOMAS: The Iraqi people?

FLEISCHER: The Iraqi people are represented by their government. If there was regime change, the Iraqi --

THOMAS: So they will be vulnerable?

FLEISCHER: Actually, the President has made it very clear that he has not dispute with the people of Iraq. That's why the American policy remains a policy of regime change. There is no question the people of Iraq --

THOMAS: That's a decision for them to make, isn't it? It's their country.

FLEISCHER: Helen, if you think that the people of Iraq are in a position to dictate who their dictator is, I don't think that has been what history has shown.

MS. THOMAS: I think many countries don't have -- people don't have the decision -- including us.
Then, on May 27th while attending a Jewish Heritage Festival at the White House, she reiterated her widely known feelings about Israel (no doubt with increased fervor following Israel's most recent aggression). Here's the exchange:

Suggesting ALL Jews in Israel go back to their country of origin goes far beyond even my Anti-Zionist sentiments, it's a provocative opinion too be sure. And "opinion writer" is the official position Thomas has occupied since she left UPI as a reporter back in 2000 following the Moonie invasion.

Opinion writers say many things, many of them objectionable, and only rarely it seems to they actually loose their jobs. Charles Krauthammer remarked last week that, "What exactly was the humanitarian crisis the flotilla was addressing? There is none. There's no one starving in Gaza." Other than a well-deserved roasting from the Daily Show he seems to have made that beautifully insane and offensive remark with little to no fall out. But then again, his position was well aligned with hard-line Zionism.

Thomas issued an apology on June 4th, the same day as the footage of her comments was put on youtube, stressing her comments, "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. May that day come soon."

It's true, her comments do not reflect a mindset of mutual respect and tolerance. But it seems incredibly clear that her opinion is more in line with a historical disagreement over territorial rights to land in the Middle East than to any distaste with the Jewish people. After all Thomas didn't say Jews should be kicked out of Israel and shipped back to the lands they immigrated from (as many commentators claim). Rather Thomas said Jews should leave because "They can go home." Not just to Poland and Germany but, "America and everywhere else." Her concern seems less anti-Semitic and more Pro-Palestinian as she concludes "Why push people out who have lived there for centuries? See?"

As her career is eulogized and appraised many have said it was about time, that Thomas' glory days are behind her. Anyone who would call Thomas a dottering fossil well served by this unfortunate "gaffe" into a much needed retirement should recall her comments a year ago when she decried the Obama Administration as being the most controlling Presidency when it came to handling the Press. In fact she said the Obama administration was worse than the Nixon administration in this regard. Many commentators rolled their eyes and emitted the same boilerplate cynisim they're espousing now: an old reporter, out of touch, etc. etc. Today the New York Times' revealed that "in 17 months in office, President Obama has already outdone every previous president in pursuing leak prosecutions. His administration has taken actions that might have provoked sharp political criticism for his predecessor, George W. Bush, who was often in public fights with the press."

In the end, it was not Obama or Bush that vanquished Helen Thomas, it was a knee-jerk reaction by Left and Right alike that conflated a heated anti-Zionist comment into an anti-Semitic incident. Or at least, that's as much as I can figure. It's too painful to imagine that a difference of geo-political opinion alone could oust one of the most respected journalists of several generations. Because if that's the case, the Press is in a lot more trouble than even Helen Thomas could ever have predicted

Also, check out this great post on Talking Points Memo about how many Israelis are all ready taking Helen Thomas' advice.

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