As of now, I am in control here, in the White House

On Helen Thomas

I don’t think the world expected Helen Thomas to suddenly start urging the Jews to exit Israel, but a lot of us who have worked with her at the White House are not completely surprised.

Let’s take a look just one more time. Here are her full remarks as given to rabbilive.com

Helen, though just about 90, is still thinking clearly. What has happened in the last few years is that, whatever it is that intercepts many of our thoughts and prevents them from coming out our mouths has eroded down to nothing in Helen’s head. And so, she says whatever the Hell she wants, pretty much whenever she wants.

And she does it obsessively. You cannot have a conversation with Helen anymore without her launching into the evils of George W. Bush, his wars, or Republicans and their policies. She either assumes you agree or doesn’t care. Any natural give and take of regular conversation is gone.

That this depleted filter caused her to say something nasty about Israel is also unsurprising to her colleagues. Helen has been bemoaning Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians for years.

What surprised was the viciousness of it. I’m willing to bet that the direction she wanted to send the Jews in – back to Germany and Poland, where they were slaughtered during her early adulthood – was not given by accident.

After hearing carefully crafted Washington non-apologies all her life, that’s exactly what she gave us after everyone recoiled in horror at her words. Nothing short of  “What I said was completely wrong, I was smoking pot to ease my joint pain, I take it back, I’m sorry Jewish people” would have sufficed.”

Helen ThomasBut instead, she decided she wasn’t taking it back, just expressing “regret.” And when that wasn’t enough, she quit rather than correct her words.

I’m not willing to excuse this just because she is so old. My experience is that old people tend to rant what they’ve always been thinking rather than veer off in some surprising new direction.

All her life, Helen questioned power fearlessly. While she was still a beat reporter with UPI, I witnessed her tear into press secretaries with unusual courage in a room that is sometimes reticent because it has to spend the rest of the non-briefing day sucking up to the press shop. And she often did it with a sense of fun and a touch of compassion from one’s elders.

But beneath the grandmotherliness – and not far beneath – was a truly angry person. And I’m sorry to say it.

She was really good to me, a young reporter suddenly thrust onto the White House beat 13 years ago. Never a hint of hubris or ego out of her.

I’ll never forget one soupy hot July day in 1997, when some people had emerged from a White House meeting with President Clinton and were on the driveway at the microphones talking about the tobacco legislation that would begin to emerge from Congress that year.

While we all stood melting, there was 78 year old Helen, a pen and reporter’s notepad in hand, scooting around, just trying to get the story. Just another reporter, hoping for a little copy to inform her readers.

Would that I could remember her solely that way.

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3 Responses to On Helen Thomas

  1. I was hoping for a thoughtful take on this from a WH reporter who knew, and lo and behold you provided it.

    And I hope you snag that front row seat over Fox; but I’m betting you’re just a little too tall.

    • Bill – thank you so much, I’m glad you liked the piece. WH might think it’s a good spot to shoot spit balls at me so I’ve got a chance. Hope to see you soon . . .

  2. Very sad considering she was in a position to educate people on and bring impartiality to the issue, given the journalists’ mission to simply inform.