<span style="font-style: italic;">The Nation</span> Publisher: Isn't there some room for Helen Thomas?
Katrina vanden Heuvel | Tuesday, 06.08.2010, 12:40 AM

White House correspondent Helen Thomas (2nd L) takes notes as former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson faces reporters during a news conference in the White House Oval Office, in this handout photograph taken on April 25, 1968 and obtained on June 7, 2010. Thomas announced her retirement on June 7, 2010 according to media reports.            REUTERS/LBJ Library Photo by Frank Wolfe/Handout

From The Nation:

Columnist Helen Thomas, a trailblazer for women journalists and one of the few in the White House press corps who courageously questioned President Bush and other officials in his administration on war, torture and U.S. policy toward Israel, announced her retirement Monday. It comes in the wake of a controversy triggered by offensive comments she made about Jews and Israel last week.

Hearst White House columnist Helen Thomas poses a question to U.S. President Barack Obama during his first news conference as president in the East Room of the White House in Washington in this February 9, 2009 file photo. Thomas, who has covered every U.S. president since John F. Kennedy, abruptly retired on June 7, 2010 amid a storm of criticism over her controversial remarks about Israel. Picture taken February 9, 2009.               REUTERS/Jim Bourg/Files
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.

In March 2006, Thomas wrote a piece for The Nation, "Lap Dogs of the Press" -- a scathing indictment of the country's leading print and broadcast media. She argued that the media could have saved lives if it had questioned the Bush administration's pronouncements. Instead, the media became, with a very few exceptions, an echo chamber for the White House. "Two of the nation's most prestigious newspapers," Thomas wrote, "The New York Times and The Washington Post, kept up a drumbeat for war with Iraq.... 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.... [And] both newspapers played into the hands of the administration."

U.S. President Barack Obama puts his arm around Hearst White House columnist Helen Thomas after presenting her with cupcakes in honor of her birthday in the James Brady Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, in this August 4, 2009 file photo. Thomas, under fire for controversial comments she made about Israel and Palestinians, announced her retirement on June 7, 2010. REUTERS/Jim Young/Files
Thomas opened many doors for women journalists; she was the first woman officer of the National Press Club after it opened its doors to women members, the first woman member and president of the White House Correspondents Association and the first woman member of the Gridiron club. In 1998, Thomas was honored by President Clinton as the first recipient of the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award. She will mark her 90th birthday on Aug. 4.

None of these prestigious firsts or awards protected Thomas from the firestorm that followed her remarks. Time columnist Joe Klein wrote that Thomas should be stripped of her privileged seat in the White House briefing room. Her remarks were offensive, but considering her journalistic moxie and courage over many decades -- in sharp contrast to the despicable deeds committed by so many littering the Washington political scene -- isn't there room for someone who made a mistake, apologized for it and wants to continue speaking truth to power and asking tough questions?

Katrina vanden Heuvel is editor and publisher of progressive magazine The Nation.

Katrina vanden Heuvel

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