Monday, June 7, 2010

Say Good Night, Helen

 In her day, Helen Thomas was a pit bull with skin as tough as an armadillo who survived the cut-throat, stab-in-the-back culture of United Press International and asked questions that dropped U.S. presidents to their knees.

Despite all the milestones she accumulated in her lifetime for women as well as a beacon for freedom of information, Helen Thomas is leaving the public specter under a black cloud of bigotry. That is tragic. And, she, better than anyone working in the world of communications where public perception is more important than substance, should have known better.

Helen Thomas did not show up for work Monday at the White House press corral. She quit.

I'm sorry, but at age 89, she should have retired two decades ago from the strains of meeting deadlines and sought peaceful semi-retirement writing children's books and memoirs out of the public limelight which she did.

But the fire in her belly would not extinguish. She was captured, in my opinion, in her inner circle of power players, worshippers and enablers. Her final years in the White House press corps was as sad as watching Hall of Fame athletes such as Willie Mays, Babe Ruth and now Ken Griffey Jr. flail away futilely in their final seasons.

Helen Thomas may have been a poster child for AARP, but as the elderly are prone to do, say something they wish they hadn't whether or not it was a true opinion from the dark side of one's heart.

This lady was granted in honorarium of tolerance and long leash until she herself yanked it on a televised interview website May 27 when she said Israilis should "get the hell out of Palestine," suggesting Jews return to Germany, Poland or the U.S.

Her speaking group consortium fired her. On Monday,  Hearst News Service, for which Thomas is a columnist, reported her retirement announcement effective immediately. She began covering the White House in 1960.

On her website, she wrote "I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians." She added: "They 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."

In one of the strangest, off-the-wall comments coming out of the Thomas affair is one issued at a press briefing Monday by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

"I think those remarks were offensive and reprehensible. She should and has apologized because obviously those remarks do not reflect certainly the opinion of most of the people in here and certainly of the administration."

A journalist reflecting the views of a presidential administration?  Helen Thomas, at that? Didn't she once ask President Nixon if he was a crook? Nixon took it that way. Didn't she tell President Johnson he was ill advised to take the course of his generals in the Vietnamese war? LBJ thought so.

What's sad is the flames of Jew bashing will always be at the top of her obituary just as she remarked that "impeached" will be in the lead of President Clinton's obit.

Helen Thomas's contributions far exceed what today is politically incorrect to say when it was commonplace in the world when the Jews were seeking a homeland in Israel in 1948.

Before women, in particular, dismiss Helen Thomas as a demon for expressing outrageous thoughts, keep in mind what she did for you as plucked from her website:

Thomas served as President of the Women's National Press Club in 1959 - 60, and she was the first woman officer of the National Press Club after it opened its doors to women members for the first time in 90 years. In addition, Thomas became the first woman officer of the White House Correspondents Association in its 50 years of existence, and served as its first woman president in 1975-76. Thomas also became the first woman member of the Gridiron Club in its history, and the first woman to be elected President in 1993.

In 1968 Thomas was named the "Newspaper Woman of Washington" by the American Newspaper Woman's Club, and in 1975, she was named the "Woman of the Year" in communications by Ladies Home Journal. She has also received the Matrix Award from the Women in Communications, and the World Almanac named Helen Thomas as one of the twenty-five most influential women in America.

In case we forget, women in the newspaper business when Thomas started in 1943 were known as "hens" assigned to so-called society beats.

One of my favorite stories about Helen Thomas tells us as much of her as a tough but ethical competitor as it does about her as a woman.

In September 1971 Pat Nixon scooped Helen by announcing her engagement to retiring AP chief White House correspondent Douglas Cornell at a reception honoring Cornell's service. Even though it was common knowledge the two were a "couple," it would have appeared unethical in those days for the two chief writers for dog-eat-dog competing wire services to be married, formally. They tied the knot less than a month later, Oct. 16, 1971, Thomas writes were much humor on her website.

And with that, I will say good night, Helen. You were an esteemed colleague of which I am eternally grateful.

I bid farewell as you did so many years ending all those presidential news conferences.

"Thank you, Mr. President."

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