Why Helen Thomas and Not Rush Limbaugh?

Mon, June 7, 2010


I’ve been a longtime fan of veteran journalist Helen Thomas, especially since she was the first woman to be allowed into the White House press corps.  She helped forge the way for later women journalists like myself, she’s written some wonderful books about presidential history, and I was lucky enough to meet her a couple of years ago at the American News Women’s Club.

Today she resigned from her job as a reporter for Hearst News Service as a result of these comments:

I don’t condone in any way what she said about calling for the Jewish people to get out of Palestine or the way that she said it.  It was a horrible and thoughtless comment and there should be consequences when someone who is supposed to be an objective journalist not only inserts themselves into a news story, but also does it in an offensive and inexcusable way.

But I have to ask — why does Helen have to “resign” but others who have done similar things get to keep their jobs?

Like, say, Rush Limbaugh?

Or Sean Hannity

Or Glenn Beck?

Or Bill O’ Reilly?

If forced resignation is good enough for someone who’s actually contributed to real journalism, then it ought to be good enough for those who work for “news” organizations with an agenda when they cross that kind of not-so-fine line of offensiveness.

But I suppose in this day and age of opinion news, as long as the offenders are making money for their bosses, it will get excused.   If Helen Thomas had been working for FOX News, she’d probably still have a job.

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27 Responses to “Why Helen Thomas and Not Rush Limbaugh?”

  1. Andrea Says:

    I see your point but I think the difference is that Helen puts forth an image of objectivity, whereas the others you listed are openly one-sided in their opinions.

  2. Caroline Says:

    I agree with both your blog and also see the point that Andrea has made, except that Helen’s opinion was part of a video not expressed through a print news article that she penned. It was caught on a hand-cam thrust in her face when she was asked a question by a rabbi. Whether or not anyone agrees with her, she is entitled to freedom of speech herself. Also, at 89, did she even realize that anything on a hand-cam can be instantly globalized via YouTube? Maybe, maybe not.

    I grew up on Helen Thomas stories through UPI, since my hometown’s papers in the 1970s and 80s only ran national news through UPI or AP. I read her autobiography and have always held her in high esteem as a journalist and groundbreaking career woman. But honestly, I think she’s really, really old now. And from my experience with older relatives, sometimes opinions that used to be more moderate become rather strong, either to the right or the left.

    I’m also wondering if perhaps the media is jumping all around on this because it is their chance to move her aside. According to the Washington Post:
    “Thomas, who has covered the White House for 50 years, does not have a reservoir of goodwill with anyone outside of the White House Press Corps. For decades, conservatives have accused Thomas of bias.. . . For the past few years, they have honed in on her opinion of Israel as a main source of bias. In 2005, Ann Coulter sneeringly referred to Thomas (whose family is Lebanese) as an “old Arab.” ”

    I’m wondering if the younger members of the WHPC itself decided it was time for her to retire and used this as an excuse to push her out. Whatever happens, I hope people stop referring this to her “downfall” and not turn a woman, with her depth of knowledge and a career that has been such a breakthrough for talented women writers, into a pyorrhea.

  3. Beth Says:

    Andrea, I think you’re def. right, but isn’t that sad? That because they have established themselves as right-wing blowhards and “pundits” they can get away with saying the most egregious things.

  4. PunditMom Says:

    Caroline, you make an excellent point that I hadn’t focused on. And it makes me think about this in an entirely different light. At what point do journalists waive their own first amendment rights?

  5. Well Read Hostess Says:

    It strikes me that while Rush, Glenn, et al are all mostly working for their own benefit, Helen Thomas was always (like her or not) trying to get at the truth of something and she wasn’t afraid to push to get it. Helen’s style was noteworthy because she was a woman and because she was unconventional. Those other guys have confused style with volume and vitriol and their “journalistic purpose” with self aggrandizement.

    By the way: my dad’s book is called Plain, Honest Men. Cannot BELIEVE I couldn’t remember the title yesterday!

  6. Andrea Says:

    It’s not that anyone should have to waive their right to free speech. It’s just that I think there is a difference between political OPINION and Journalism. Rush is an OP ED radio show. He is PAID for his opinion whether we like it or not. True journalists should state the facts as best they can with OUT opinion and let the public draw their own conclusions.

    That said, I do realize that her comment was not in a journalistic context per say, so yes there is a conversation there. However, knowing how media works and that reputation is everything, it would seem that Helen should have known better. It’s too bad because she truly is an icon.

  7. PunditMom Says:

    But if Helen was not on her “journalist” time and was stating her own personal opinion, not in her role as a journalist, then why have her resign? Isn’t that saying that journos can never express their personal opinions, no matter what?

  8. Manju Says:

    Rush and Hannity didn’t do “similar things” in the links provided :

    1. I read Rush as noting the contrast between Obama’s Buchenwall and Cairo speech. In Buchanwall he rips into the German nation “over something they did 60 years ago,” but in Cairo he gives the Islamic nation, if you will, a pass for a totalitarian ideology happenning now. He’s not telling “Jews to get over the Holocaust” as the author claims, he’s telling Obama to treat Muslims like Germans. The “60 years” only serves to highlight the difference, not rationalize ignoring the Holocaust.

    2.The Hannity flap doesn’t involve anitsemitism form Hannity himself, but rather someone he interviewed.

    Since its late and we were already 0 for 2, I didn’t bother to look at the other 2.

  9. Bonnee Says:

    Actually, I think what Helen said is pretty darn objective: getting the Jews out of Palestine is not a bad idea. They never had a right to be there in the first place and they have not yet completed their genocide on the Palestinians. There IS someone to give it back to! Palestine was taken by force from its indigenous inhabitants by Zionists basing their claim on the ravings of schizoidal psychopaths about an Iron Age tribal god no different from hundreds of others. The only reason their god ended up on top was because he was a psychopath and so are the majority of Zionists. Helen spoke the truth. The Palestinians had nothing to do with what happened to the Jews in WW II. In fact, there is a mountain of evidence that Zionist collaborators were quite involved in the holocaust in order to create Israel and the guilt they’ve loaded on the rest of the world in order to get it. So, why did Britain illegally give somebody else’s country to them??? It wasn’t right then, it still isn’t right.


    Watch the whole video and then ask yourself if Israel has a right to exist.

    Israel, as an artificially created nation that stole the land of Palestine, has NEVER had the moral right to exist. Never. They base their claim on the “gift” of that lying psychopath, Yahweh, who is, by the way, a figment of their imaginations. So, no, they have never had a right to exist as a nation though they have the perfect right – like everyone – to believe whatever fairy tale they like and to dance in the moonlight with sage and green peppers up their noses.

  10. ParentopiaDevra Says:

    Has anyone considered Helen may be organic? Meaning she may have dementia or Altzheimers? Bells have been going off in my head about her for a couple of years. I would not be surprised in the least if an announcement was made in the future saying she is not in optimal health. A common misperception of Altzheimers and other related degenerative brain conditions, is that is it all about being unable to remember information, but another lesser known sign is an inability to control expressing the information you remember. Basically this means a person may think something and under normal conditions not express that opinion, or if it is expressed, it is done so with active consideration for who might be in the room, in the audience, etc. But some folks who experience dementia are unable to filter themselves. So while Helen may have always had an opinion as the one she expressed during the on the spot interview, she may not have had the ability to self-regulate. I realize she has always been a woman of strong opinions, but the manner in which she expressed them on the video, indicates to me, she may have a medical problem. As my grandmother used to say, “Once you are in your 80′s like me dear, you are no spring chicken.”

  11. Andrea Says:

    “But if Helen was not on her “journalist” time and was stating her own personal opinion, not in her role as a journalist, then why have her resign? Isn’t that saying that journos can never express their personal opinions, no matter what?”

    Well, in some ways I think the answer to this question is yes. Just as we would hold any public figure responsible for their public comments if they are contradictory to their mission. And to be clear, it’s certainly not that they CAN’T express their opinions, if that’s what they want. I am simply arguing that to be seen as a credibly objective and un-biased news source, it would be smart to keep those especially polarizing opinions to themselves, for their OWN sake. ya know?

  12. PunditMom Says:

    @Devra, I was talking about that with Mr. PunditMom last night — there have been times over the last couple of years that could be a possibility.

    @Manju While the FOX people may not have said the exact same things as Helen, I would definitely say Limbaugh’s efforts at being a Hitler apologist and suggesting that we ought to let things go after 60 years, falls into a pretty heinous category. And FOX News people putting on self-acknowledged Nazis and vouching for their bona fides? Well, I don’t think we even need to go there.

  13. Corey Feldman Says:

    @Bonnee I can’t believe I am going to take this bait, but even if everything you say is true. All nations were artificially created and displaced and/or assimilated “indigenous” populations. The history of every nation is written in the blood of those who were there first. At what point do you draw the line, if 60+ years is too recent is 230+? Should the US give all the land back to the Native Americans? How far back should we go? Recent DNA studies have shown some interbreeding between Modern Human And Neanderthals (who were actually the first to settle the Middle East). Should we DNA test and give the land back to who ever has the most Neanderthal DNA?

  14. Lisse Says:

    People seem to be forgetting that Thomas also said “America.” And that this is 2010, not the 1930s. She was not calling for the death of Jews, but reminding people that the Zionist situation has held the Palestinians in refugee camp conditions for 60 years.

    While her suggestion is hardly practical at this point, the inflated reaction is a tragic example of the opportunistic conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. It’s too bad that she felt she needed to apolgize, rather than explain, and that the people who did business with her didn’t have the balls to stand by her. Because she is nearly 90, she will not likely get a chance at a 2nd act the way Imus and Limbaugh, and Jesse Jackson have when they said presumably unforgivable things.

    Personally, I think Israel has a right to exist and that it is only natural that they would employ strong security measures to protect themselves. Too often though, Israeli leaders behave in a way that puts a thumb in the eye of the Palestinians and the U.S. and subjects the Palestinians to inhumane treatment, such as the Jews themselves sought to avoid.

  15. Caroline Says:

    @Andrea: “to be seen as a credibly objective and un-biased news source, it would be smart to keep those especially polarizing opinions to themselves, for their OWN sake”

    I can see your point–especially with a younger reporter. Even a 70-year-old reporter. But Thomas is a 90-yr-old Lebanese American (which seems to get lost in much of the on-going coverage). So, she’s basically been keeping her opinion to herself (or at least been pretty quiet about it) for 60 years. Until a rabbi put a video camera in her face and asked her a pointed question. Maybe 60 years’ of personal frustration just came tumbling out. This of course leads to Parentopia’s suggestion of dementia, which is a strong possibility. Or, just the fact that she’s incredibly old and her opinion filters just aren’t firing on all levels. Twenty years ago, I’m sure Thomas would have bit her tongue and said something politically correct about peace negotiations.

    On a personal note, I agree with Lisse’s mention of “opportunistic conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.” There is a definite difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. You can support the Jewish faith and not agree on Israel’s expansionist policies. In fact, I have Jewish friends who do not agree with Israel’s position toward the Palestinians.

  16. John Says:

    Rush, Hannity, and the right wing pundits would of course never say Jews should return to the place of their attempted extermination. Saying they don’t agree with the civil rights amendment based on the constitution’s treatment of federalism may be motivated by racism…or it may be motivated by political philosophy (or just by ratings). The equivalent for the lot of mouth breathing right wing pundits would be to say something like: “The only good Injun’s a dead Injun.” I guarantee that any but Rush would be immediately fired (or lose sponsorship). I’ll concede that Rush might actually be able to weasel out by claiming it was a joke.

  17. jonniker Says:

    As a journalist, you don’t have first amendment rights. You don’t. I didn’t — I’d have been fired for those comments, too. I registered as an independent, I did my volunteer work at Planned Parenthood in secret, and I never attended a political dinner for personal reasons, nor did I donate money to candidates.

    Your job is your life, at that point.

    What’s hypocritical here is not just that Helen Thomas had to resign, whereas the other douchebags didn’t, but that Helen has NEVER been objective. She’s a liberal — she’s said it, she’s talked about it, and her perspective is EXTREMELY partisan. She’s really only been allowed to be grandfathered in as an objective journalist because of her history, age and status as the senior statewoman of the White House press corps. So while I find her comments deplorable — and honestly, I do, and surprisingly, my own position is not as pro-Israel as many others — I find it hypocritical and hideous that suddenly she’s being strung up for losing objectivity, when really, what it is is that they found her comments distasteful.

    Because although she wasn’t like Rusk or Hannity, to pretend she was objective, ever, is laughable. So why DO they get a pass and she doesn’t?

  18. jonniker Says:

    And btw, to those who are differentiating between Judaism and Zionism, I thank you. It is the slippery slope of conjoining the two terms that is, I’m afraid, leading us into a culture of anti-Semitism.

  19. Adrienne Says:

    I understand the point you are making, but I think politics are getting in the way. Either everyone should be taken off the air and out of print, and speech carefully monitored and only approved opinions to air, or you allow everyone to speak candidly and frankly.

    Much of this is format. As pundits, Rush and all of the right-wing talk show hosts are given much more leeway. Thomas was given tremendous freedom as a columnist for years. She never hid her anti-Semitism. It was only when this blew up, that her editors could no longer shield her.

    This problem would not have emerged if Thomas had been kicked out of the WHPC years ago. As an opinion columnist, did she have a place there? It was only out of deference to her age and reputation that she was allowed to stay long after she transitioned into “columnist.” This would have put any controversial comments between her and Hearst. The White House and the WHPC would not have been involved.

    I don’t believe that Thomas should have retired. She has the right to her opinions, just as Rush, Hannity, Beck, et al do. The WHPC was no longer the appropriate place for her to be, but she still has the right to voice her opinions. Either we respect everyone’s First Amendment rights, or we lose them. Free speech isn’t just speech that you like and agree with.

  20. Karoli Says:

    yes, and now we discover that the video “interview” with the Rabbi was edited to make that remark look as evil as it was perceived. When viewed in its entirety, one could argue that the refs to Poland and Germany were insensitive, but shoot…a whole class of Jewish students didn’t stand up and riot over what she said.

    Just call him Rabbi O’Keefe.

  21. Fat Steve Says:

    I hate to be seen as defending the odious and unsightly Limbaugh but a simple answer to the question in the headline could be…SHE’S 89!

  22. fine1956 Says:

    Astounding misrepresentation of Limbaughs comments Pundit, “Hitler apologist” is downright dishonest, your credibility is serioulsy compromised. Now… self avowed Mao admirers(dear Anita)and Van Jones frequent speeches at communist events might be more important, or do you support communists in the White House??? Valerie Jarrett is still there, and she has known and appreciated dear Van for many, many years. This is not opinion, this is FACT, and not even remotely misrepresented.

  23. Anonymouse Says:

    I find the freedom of speech argument odd – she’s a public figure, and as a public figure, everyone knows that you’re held to different standards.

    I’m really disturbed by all the calls for her to have just kept her mouth shut. I suppose, as a Jew, I too would sleep better if I didn’t know that Thomas is actually an anti-Semite, but in saying she should have known better, it’s basically saying that her anti-Semitism is ok so long as we don’t know about it.

    Obviously (getting back to the freedom of speech issue), her thoughts are her own. But they’re still unfortunate thoughts to have, and I’m glad to have found out about them.

  24. PunditMom Says:

    There’s no different 1st amendment standard. Of course, journalists aren’t supposed to insert their personal views into news coverage, but if as a private citizen a journo is asked their opinion, there’s nothing that prevents them from doing so. That would be a sad day of a certain group of people were prohibited from exercising their rights because of their profession.

  25. PunditMom Says:

    @fine1956 — have to disagree. There’s no question that Limbaugh’s comments suggested that after 60 years we should give Hitler a pass. He’ll say anything that’s outrageous to keep his ratings up, but there are some lines you don’t cross — and that was one of them.

  26. michael thomas Says:

    Whatever one thinks of her comments, Helen Thomas never interjected her personal views into her journalism. She was one of the great great journalists of her generation.


  27. PunditMom Says:

    Michael, Agreed!

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