Careless Talk Costs Careers
Deaglán de Bréadún
Herewith a rather sad story from the US by Guardian reporter Chris McGreal. The veteran journalist Helen Thomas was a fixture on the White House scene for many years and contributed to the colour and variety of US politics and media.
Now her career has ended on a fairly ignominious note. A thoughtless remark has brought her down. One wonders how such a comment would have played here in Ireland.
HELEN THOMAS, the White House reporter who has covered every president since Dwight Eisenhower, has resigned after she was criticised for telling a rabbi that Jewish Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland and Germany.
Thomas (89) apologised for the comments, which were made at a celebration for Jewish heritage month at the White House last week. However the ambivalent wording of the apology only fuelled demands for her to be sacked as a columnist by Hearst newspapers.
Thomas did not attend yesterday’s White House briefing where the president’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, described her comments as “offensive and reprehensible”. Shortly afterwards, Hearst said she had resigned.
Thomas, who has served 57 years as a White House correspondent, was filmed by Rabbi David Nessenoff, who posted the video on his website, rabbilive.com.
In the recording, Thomas says of Jewish Israelis: “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine. Remember, these people are occupied and it’s their land, not Germany and not Poland.” She is asked where they should then go. “Go home. Poland, Germany,” Thomas replies. “And America and everywhere else.”
Her comments were widely condemned. Thomas’s speaking agency dropped her at the weekend and her co-author on her most recent book said he would not work with her again.
Two former White House spokesmen called for her to be fired by Hearst. Lanny Davis, who was also special counsel for Bill Clinton, said: “Helen Thomas, who I used to consider a close friend and who I used to respect, has showed herself to be an antiSemitic bigot.”
Ari Fleischer, who served George Bush, said in an e-mail to the Huffington Post website that Thomas’s comments amounted to “religious cleansing”.
“As someone who is Jewish, and as someone who worked with her and used to like her, I find this appalling,” he wrote. “She is advocating religious cleansing. How can Hearst stand by her? If a journalist or a columnist said the same thing about blacks or Hispanics, they would already have lost their jobs.”
Thomas offered a qualified apology. “I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heartfelt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognise the need for mutual respect and tolerance,” she said at helenthomas.org.
That though did little to mollify critics. Mr Davis said the apology was “not direct”.
B’nai B’rith International, the world’s oldest Jewish service organisation, said Thomas’s views reflected a long hostility to Israel.
Thomas, whose parents were born in Lebanon, has long held provocative views, by American standards, on the Middle East.
Four years ago, a question at a White House press conference that suggested the US supported “collective punishment for Lebanon and Palestine” was met with the tart response: “Well, thank you for the Hizbullah view.” – ( Guardian service)