• -
  • irishtimes.com - Posted: June 8, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

    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)

    • Kynos aka John O'Driscoll says:

      That all said she was wrong in her substantive points. There is no home left for the Jews of Germany; of Poland; of Europe, in Europe. Would you want to go back to a place where some of your fellow countrymen tried to wipe out not just your body but your actual DNA? Could you call that home ever again? Such a place? It’s a lie to say there are no birds in Auschwitz, tho’ a poetic one, for there’s one flies up to the wire in The Ascent of Man. There are birds there, doubtless (to my mind) still ushering the souls of the murdered millions back and forth across the unquiet Lethe. Could you go back to such an haunted place and call it home? No. I didn’t think so. The Jews are entitled to their ancient homeland. But thoes who’ve lived there since are also entitled to their homeland there too. And there will never be a peaceful resolution to that nuclear powderkeg beneath the naked sun until and if such time comes as there is a One State solution where all men call each other brother, regardless of which book or scroll they cleave to, or what their DNA says. IMO of course. Which means less than nothing.

    • Kynos aka John O'Driscoll says:

      Publish or be damned.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Her parents were born in Lebanon so is it really such a shock she would finally be revealed as an antiSemitic bigot? The recent hysterical media hypocrisy over the flotilla to Israel has revealed many of her colleagues unable to be impartial factual reporters.

      Also, it can’t be right for someone of her age to be in a position like that – I’m not being ageist but the reality is most people at that age are not at their sharpest mentally to react in a situation like the White House Press Room and being there since the 60s isn’t a reason to hang on – there’s a time when to know to retire gracefully and do other things with the skills and experiences gained to that point.

    • Mark says:

      Here’s an alternative view from a former member of the press corr… http://reason.com/blog/2010/06/07/helen-thomas-and-the-awkward-t

      “Straight reporters have been taught for six decades to submerge or even smother their political and philosophical views in the workplace. Like all varieties of censorship, this process creates resentment and distortion. Whatever it is that you feel prevented from saying, you will be more likely to scream once given the chance. This is why, for example, some of the most politically opinionated people you’ll ever meet are newspaper reporters a couple drinks in out yakking with their colleagues.”

    • Kynos says:

      FExake why’d you gut me postings? Didn’t I give you full permission to print the lot? I’m not worried why should you be? Did i insult annyone who didn’t deserve insulting?

    • Hugh says:

      I see Desmond Fitzgerald of Canary Wharf London is not content with bothering Madam in the letters page, but he’s now frothing his resentment-ridden dullard’s spittle across her website too. Have you throught about what Twitter might offer you in the way of an audience, Des?

    • dave says:

      Interestingly I wonder what would have happened had Helen Thomas told Turkey to “get the hell out of” Cyprus, a country that was invaded by Turkey in 1974, and then ethnically cleansed a third of the Greek Cypriots in the North, forcibly expelled most of its population, and populated their occupied territories with Turks imported from Anatolia (a war crime under Article 49 of the Geneva Convention) known since as the “occupied territories”. Turkey still has 40,000 troops there, and refuses all UN calls for it to withdraw. Had Thomas told the Turks to “get the hell out of” Cyprus, I can guarantee that Turkey would have immediately withdrawn its Ambassador, Turks would be protesting outside the Turkish Embassy, burning USA flags, and no doubt Prime Minister Erdogan would be leading a flottilla of “peace” ships bringing aid to their occupying army in Cyprus. Sadly, the world’s media seems to listen only to those who shout the loudest and longest. My advice to the Israelis is that they do the same.

    • Kynos says:

      Had a letter published in the IT once back round 1992 since then left it to the Pro-Ams these days I’m strictly am.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Oh dear Hugh @ 6 did I touch a nerve – I’m impressed you managed not to throw in a West Brit label – unlike one of our esteemed members of Dáil Eireann who felt unable to show such restraint when responding to my enquiry about their expenses.

      Come back to me when those on the Flotilla, or in the ‘we hate Jews – but let’s pretend we care about Palestinians’ milieu, reach the hand of friendship toward Israeli communities who live under fear of constant rocket attacks – until then spare me the ‘bad Israel’ rubbish and double standards.

    • Hugh says:

      The Turkey analogy is ludicrous. Like there’s a huge Turkish-American lobby in the US influencing US foreign policy. Is Turkey receiving huge handouts from the US tax-payer like Israel?

    • minxie says:

      I’m inclined to agree with Des on this………especially second paragraph @9. Those images of the Oirish “survivors” of the Flotilla arriving “home” “safe” made me sick to my stomach……….

    • DesJay says:

      Ironic that the traps of gotcha journalism should trip up such a wily campaigner as Helen Thomas. Even George Bush couldn’t silence her, although he tried, following her persistent, pesky questioning. That was one of her finer moments. This off-the-cuff remark about Israel was not.

      Israel exists. Like Northern Ireland. Like the USA. Like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, etc. Should we all go home? (Normans out of Munster!!!) I suspect Helen Thomas didn’t mean her remarks literally, but that’s her problem.

      However, the whole episode illustrates some interesting things. For one, the strength of the Israeli lobby in America. For another, the slick way successive Israeli governments have managed to equate criticism of their policies and actions with anti-Semitism. But “winners” do re-write history, as e.g., NI unionists have persuaded much of the world that NI is synonymous and coterminous with Ulster.

      Anti-Semitic? The Israelis have convinced many that they are the only Semites in the world. Hey, folks: Arabs are Semites too! Is Israel anti-Semitic?

      And many decent, otherwise smart people, have fallen for that nonsense. Desmond Fitzgerald!

      Most American Jews support Israel unreservedly. So do many right-wing nuts who call themselves Christians, who see Israel as essential to Armageddon and to the Rapture they long for. And most American politicians bow to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). To be elected against their opposition is almost impossible.

      But be very clear, Desmond Fitzgerald and others: many devout American Jews are deeply ashamed of the actions of Israeli governments. To suggest that such Jews are anti-Semitic is nonsense.

    • Helen Thomas was a political institution here in the States, and to me still should be. It is unfortunate that political correctness, cowardice and thin-skinned,stupidity have become a mainstay of political and public discourse here in the States. Helen Thomas made several imprudent statements, but to show her the door is a bit ludicrous when you consider all of the half-truths and misinformation that came out the mouth of Ari Fliescher (mouthpiece of the Bush Administration), her chief critic leading up to the invasion of Iraq, He should be tarred and feathered for spouting verbiage that got so many members of out military killed. Helen Thomas’s opinion is half-baked, but in America we have a pesky little thing called the First Amendment that allows for free speech and uninhibited political discourse, but let’s be honest, in America, our ties with the state of Isreal are deadly serious, they have a powerful lobby. Power corrupts. Anyone who challenges this relationship is shown the door. I will say this in Helen Thomas’s defense, if all who “misspoke” were shown the door, we would have one hell of an unemployment problem. Also in America we hold sacred the right to make a fool of ourselves, just look at Sarah Palin, she does it everyday.

    • dave says:


      Get real.

      1. Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, and still has 40, 000 troops occupying it. Turkey carried out murderous ethnic cleansing of the Greek Cypriot population of the North of the island. Turkey has expelled the Greek people of Cyprus from the North. Turkey has commited war crimes in Cyprus.

      So much for peace-loving Turkey.

      2. Turkey has history in terms of its genocide of over a million and a half Armenians, which is well-documented.

      3. Turkey has last week sent a ship containing a very hard core of “peace” activists armed to the hilt with knives, iron bars, tear gas, gas masks, and a few guns. The only peace they wanted was a piece of Israelis. They tried to murder the initially few lone Israeli commandos armed only with paint ball guns. They laid into them, beating them with their iron bars, and then when the commandos defended themselves from being murdered, Turkey got upset.

      4. Turkey later gave full support to Hamas, who have in their Charter the plan and sworn intention to carry out Holocaust Number Two.

      So much again for peaceloving Turkey.

      5. Turkey voted at the UN yesterday imposing sanctions against “peace” loving Iran, for its failure to stop building nuclear weapons.

      So much again for peace loving Turkey.

      Turkey has become a terrorist supporting state, and will never be admitte to the EU. Bye bye Turkey….it wasn’t good to know you.

      Turkey, Iran and Hamas: the Nazis of the Middle East

    • dave says:


      Your wisdom is astounding. “Arabs are Semites too”. Now there’s an eye opener.

      Don’t be so ridiculous: When the term anti-Semitism is used in the context of Israel-Palestine, it is used to refer to antipathy and hatred towards Jews, not Arabs.

      Indeed, in most contexts outside the Middle East, the term is used to refer to Jews. Did you really think the Nazis’ anti-Semtism was directed at the Arabs also????!!!

      Quite the opposite. The Nazis were strong allies with many Arab rulers. The Mufti of Jeruslaem was Hitler’s guest in Berlin, and even pressed the Nazis to intensify the extermination of the Jews. After the war some Arab countries, including Egypt and Syria, offered a safe haven to esacped Nazis, and the Nazis there helped the Arabs devise plans to exterminate Israel.

      You suggest also that anti-Israelis are not anti-Semitic. Sometimes this is true, but it is a fact that many anti-Semites hide under the cloak of being anti-Israel. The unprompted defensiveness of these people in making it very clear – according to them – that they are NOT being anti-Semitic, BEFORE anyone has directly in fact specifically accused them of being anti-Semitic is rether telling.

      Some people are BOTH anti-Semtic and anti-Israeli at the same time. In today’s world it is not easy to know if someone is in fact anti-Semitic, as most people – apart from out and out self-proclaimed neo-Nazis – keep it hidden to themselves. Others who are anti-Semitic may not even be aware of it themselves. But their one-sided bias against Israel reveals it. They hate Israel with such an irrational vengeance that mere mention of the word Israeli can send them into a verbal frenzy. They want Israel to be gone, and they don’t worry who they are teamng up with (in the past it was Hitler; today it’s Hamas, and Ahmadinejad in Iran) to help them do it.

      They don’t even care if Iran nukes Israel, although this would also certainly wipe out the Palestinians, as the area is so small. Such is their hate for Israel.

      Now I ask you: is that crazy or what?

    • Kynos. says:

      Only armed with paintball guns. What for? What use are paintball guns against anyone other than a normally desk-bound colleague on a work awayday? And then only if he’s yer boss. S/he’s. Sorry. But seriously. What purpose had these paintball guns? Were they going to try and bluff that they were real weapons? The IDF are far too professional to brandish weapons about that a) they didn’t intend to use and b) with lethal force as necessary or desired. And in the dark mar dhea? Was it luminous paint? OK it might have been and that could be a useful strategy. Marking out targets. For subsequent attention with non-paintball guns. So the lads below were attacked with iron bars and other ready items not powered by gunpowder or other high-velocity propellant. And was there something stopping them diving off the ship for subsequent rescue if this were truly a peaceful operation of suppression and capture? True. He who wins a battle without fighting has the greatest victory. But the IDF aren’t particularly renowned for that, though they are for winning battles generally. Which is why I’m surprised they lost this one. Well. They hardly had a choice in that once they had chosen to enter it the way they did. They seem doomed to have lost either way. They hardly care about that. They care about winning a War.

    • Kynos. says:

      Were the paintball guns merely to provoke? And if so did they succeed in their role as weapons? Was it a pretext the IDF were seeking? Or was it precisely what the – some of the – activists on board wanted? An opportunity for martyrdom? Creating a pretext of their own?

    • dave says:


      I believe paintball guns are sometimes used by some armies and police forces in crowd control situations. Presumably with a ship containing around 600 people, it seems they were initially preparing for a crowd control problem, and obviously were not expecting to be attacked in a life threatening violent assault manner, as otherwise they would have arrived not with any paint guns at all. Also it has become clear from accounts of both the IDF and the passengers, that around 40 to 50 armed “activists” abducted some of the wounded IDF soldiers – who had already been beaten with irons bars and clubs and knifed – into a cabin – as well as throwing another soldier from one deck down to another. I don’t believe that they were preparing to offer these abducted soldiers cups of tea.

      In such situations, where their fellow soldiers’ lives were at risk from such “peaceful” activists”, it is the duty of the IDF and of any other army to do what is required to rescue their men. Anyone who thinks that the IDF should have allowed themselves to be beaten to death or should have tried to persuade their lynch mob attackers to stop beating them, is living on another planet. And I agree with you to some extent, they were after something, whether is was martyrdom or simply the opportunity to lay into some IDF soldiers, maybe without expecting that the IDF would defend themselves. My bet is that these guys were used by others who planned the whole deadly confrontation, those who knew that the IDF would fire back to defend themselves, knowing that there would be deaths and thus bad PR for Israel and its blockade. These people really died for nothing, as Israel will never budge from any arrangement and inspection of material that does not remain under its direct control.

      They may ease up on some of the items currently prohibited, but essentially the inspection situation and its control will never change. I bet also that had these same activists tried to break the Egyptian blockade of Gaza – since temporarily relaxed – and had attacked Egyptian soldiers, there would have been a massacre of hundreds. Comapred to the Israelis, the Egyptians take no prisoners at all: look at how ruthless they can be in their efforts to counter fundamentalism, something they fear greatly.

    • rubyrubyrubyruby says:

      Excellent piece in this weeks IT by Eamonn McCann on Bloody Sunday…whitewash and cover up, injustice heaped upon injustice…
      ‘Justice delayed is Justice denied’ indeed for those no longer alive to savour the vindication of ‘the long walk to justice’ that began in 1972 in Rossville and ended in 2010 with Savile…38 years of shame…
      As with the scandal of Clerical abuse the populous Hibernicus prefer to concentrate on events away from home rather than focus on the elephant in the room …
      Mercifully there are still a few good wo/men who refuse to ‘stand by and do nothing’…

    • dave says:


      I disagree with virtually everything McCann has ever spoken or written about, eg, his extreme anti-Americanism, his visceral and fanatical anti-Israelism, etc, But I have to say that on this matter I agree with him, re the UK whitewash and injustice. And isn’t this the way it often is: powerful nations can invade other countries, and carry out the most horrible unintended collateral damage when bombing enemy targets. But never are they called to account. Ditto re Bloody Sunday.

      You are also absolutely right in what you observe about the people’s and politicians amazing ability to focus on issues and events abroad when there so many elephants in our rooms at home that should be receiving our disgust and outrage. Notice how the government used events abroad this week to almost bury the reports on the huge increase in the numbers of children in care of the state who are now figured to have died.

      The media themsleves have also – handily for the goverment – fallen into the trap, and have given much more sustained attention to the flotilla deaths than attention to this issue, which involved hundreds of Irish child deaths.

      And how much attention did the media give to the damning UN report on serious human rights abuses in Ireland in various areas. Very little. Two days at the most, and it was gone from the media, again doing a wondeful favour to the government. Government and the media are wrong to neglect the serious abuses of the vulnerable on our doorstep. Why for example in the 21st century do we still have hundreds of children begging on our streets, and living homeless, being abused, sexually, physically, psychologically. Oh, no… let us devote most of our time to the problems of the world. But. clearly, we simply don’t have the luxury to do both. Our own vulnerable, and abused children require and deserve our first and effective attention. Because clearly, the HSE and our state has failed them. And I haven’t even mentioned clerical sexual abuse yet. What a hypocritical and corrupt country we are.

    • barbera says:

      Excellent analysis by dave

    • rubyrubyrubyruby says:

      dave I was only referring to the IT article…I haven’t read enough Eamon McCann to agree or disagree with your generalisation about his work…and I know I am right but thanks for the endorsement…even if we can’t agree on actohs…!

    • barbera says:

      i would iterate, excellent analysis by dave @15 & 18…………..@20 — not so much

    • dave says:


      I second that.

      Happy Dave

    • kynos says:

      dave, yer right. But we’re a long way away from being as bad as the Choctaw. Imagine. They’d had their own attempted genocide done them not two decades before they’d nothing left after not their land not their hunting not their posterity or rather their decimated posterity and the eegits they scraped together nearly every buck they had and sent it to the Irish in 1845. We’re a long way from that level of behaviour I’m sure you’ll agree.

    • dave says:

      Kynos, Could be that we won’t even have 170 bucks, the amount they scrapped together for the famine relief.

      Maybe we could appeal again to their descendants! We may eventually have to beg from every corner of the globe, by the time the IMF finish with us, and finish with us they will.

      I haven’t yet researched it but I wonder where Ireland stands amoung the nations regarding moral behaviour. My guess: near the bottom. I recall reading somwhere that the shoplifting rate here is the highest in Europe. There is I believe here a me-Fein culture, where in spite of religion many people do what they think they can get away with, rather than be guided by the effect their behaviour can have on their fellow citizens. The rule is: Ah sure, rules are meant to be broken. Something to do with being an island state?

Search Politics