|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|
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|
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|
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.