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Monday, June 7, 2010

Helen Thomas Ousted? Say It Ain't So!

White House Reporter's Career Ends After Nearly Sixty Years

I was there when (then) White House Correspondent Helen Thomas was stopped - as she headed to the James Brady Briefing Room of the White House - by Rabbi Nesenoff as he began his interview with the storied reporter.

Rabbi Nesenoff (seated left of woman in glasses) at the President's media event prior to the 
Jewish American Heritage reception at the White House on May 27, 2010.  Photo/CD Brown.

Apparently, what started out as a friendly interview by Nesenoff, his son and another young Jewish American from New York, credentialed to cover the Jewish American Heritage Festival on May 27th (their first time at the White House) turned sour, and shocked many.

As I stopped by to briefly listen to the interview, Ms. Thomas was asked by Rabbi Nesenoff about her career in the media as well as what advice she had to those just starting out in the media, to which Ms. Thomas replied, "Keep doing it.  You'll never be bored."   In essence, she was telling the three zealous interviewers that working in the media was always interesting and never a dull moment.

She was right on that point.

Thinking the interview was harmless and the three gentlemen just wanted to get advice from one of the icons of White House media (after all who better to get advice from than one who has covered politics for over 60 years?), I excused myself and went on my way. 

I should have stayed.

As I mentioned earlier, that seemingly innocent interview went terribly awry when Thomas was later asked by the Rabbi about her comments on Israel.

Thomas replied, "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine."  Remember, these people are occupied. And it's their land. It's not Germany, it's not Poland."

Rabbi Nesenoff (center) conducting another interview at the White House. Photo/CD Brown

When Nesenoff asked Thomas where the Israelis should go, she said they should "go home" to Germany, Poland and the U.S.


I would often be in awe of Ms. Thomas.  Sitting there in the front row in the briefing room amongst all the other reporters - the likes of which include CNN.  Looking at times frail and brittle, but still having her wits about her, and making her point, I saw her as a force.   A woman who has seen much, covered much, and was given the respect of her peers.

Now, this woman who had begun her career in 1943 covering the administrations of ten presidents, has decided that her remarks were enough for her to retire, immediately.

She issued the following statement on her website today...

“I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. 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.”

White House press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, answering many questions from Ms. Thomas during the Obama administration, had this to say about Thomas' remarks.  "I think she should and has apologized, because obviously those remarks do not reflect certainly the opinion of, I assume, most of the people in here and certainly not of the Administration."

Ms. Thomas has since been fired from her affiliate media company, Nine Speakers, which issued these remarks:

"It is with a heavy heart that Nine Speakers, Inc. announces its resignation as the agent for Helen Thomas, Dean of the White House Press Corps. Ms. Thomas has had an esteemed career as a journalist, and she has been a trailblazer for women, helping others in her profession, and beyond. However, in light of recent events, Nine Speakers is no longer able to represent Ms. Thomas, nor can we condone her comments on the Middle East. Nine Speakers will continue to enthusiastically represent all of our other current and future clients.

Plans for Thomas to speak at the graduation ceremony of Walt Whitman High School have been canceled.  

Too bad.  She could have used that opportunity to share the incident with future and aspiring journalism majors as a talking point on what not to say in front of a camera in the age of social media - where everything, and anything, can pop up on the internet over night.

Nonetheless, you cannot discredit the amazing career of Helen Thomas and her trailblazing legacy. Whether in the realm of reporting we are to remain neutral, or not; and in a world where we are told it is better to say something nice, or nothing at all, I am personally grateful for the opportunity to have met Helen Thomas.  

'Tis a shame that at the expense of those seeking media attention, an entire career was wiped out with just one interview.

Here's wishing Thomas well, and to paraphrase a quote she made popular, Thank You, Ms. Thomas.

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