June 13th, 2010
My Dear America:
Monday Morning of this week was a sad day for Helen Thomas and also, I believe, a sad day for America.
A firestorm of controversy erupted following the release of an Interview that Helen had given in an offhand conversation with a Blogger on the White House grounds. The Blogger had asked her what she thought the Israelis should do with regard to Gaza and Helen replied that the Israelis should "Get the Hell out of Palestine".
Where should they go asked the Blogger and Helen replied that they should go back to Germany and Poland.
When I first heard about the statements I was quick to fault Helen Thomas for these outrageous statements. Later on I heard the recorded statements on NPR and saw the video on Television and clearly I don't believe that these statements were made as racist rhetoric.
What I have thought about since the abrupt resignation of Helen Thomas from her Front Row Middle Chair in the White House briefing room and her status as a Columnist for the Hearst Newspapers, is that there may be some extenuating circumstances regarding Ms. Thomas's incendiary comments.
First of All, Helen Thomas was 89 years old. Was she too old to be doing her job in the White House. Perhaps. But the truth was that from Day One during the Kennedy Administation when she first took her seat in the White House briefing room she was a standout for many reasons. She was the first woman to be allowed a seat in the press room in any Administration and even at that point in the early 60s She had been working for United Press International since 1943.
Helen Thomas had lived through the Rebirth of Israel in Palestine in the late forties and beyond and knew what anyone with a knowledge of that era knew. Israel did not become a state without a fight with the people who had lived there for centuries before them, The Palestinians. Palestine was occupied by the Israelis in a violent and aggressive manner and although the British and Americans had brought the Israelis to the area the Israelis finally got their "benefactors" out of their country but still kept them as benefactors.
So the truth is that Israel has not existed forever under the control of the Israeli's but is a rather recent country which took control of Palestine in much the same way way that early Americans took control of American Indian Country in The United States of America.
I do not mention these things to cause further incendiary messages but simply to put things in perspective. To Helen Thomas, Israelis probably never deserved to live in Palestine and did not belong there. I do not know if that is what she was thinking when she made her controversial statements but it may very well have been and if so She had a good point.
Regarding the far more disturbing point, which is that Israelis should return to Germany or Poland from whence they came, clearly there is no valid excuse for that comment based on the horrific history of the Jewish holocaust by the Nazi's in World War II. The only possibly reasonable explanation for that comment might be Helen recognizing that those presently high functioning countries were past home countries for many Israeli families and that anti semitism was a thing of the past, or so we might hope.
Who knows what Helen Thomas thought. Only she knows for sure and she has not commented, as far as I know.
One comment that I thought was insightful regarding this situation was Lewis Black's comment to Joy Behar that Helen Thomas' "editing equipment wasn't working."
The truth is that her editing equipment hasn't been working for a long time and thats why we loved her. Her exchanges with President Kennedy were memorably humorous. Clearly Kennedy loved her barbs and responded in classic exchanges.
We should also remember that when other reporters were timid in their questioning of wars and other White House Horrors, Helen Thomas was always there putting Lyndon Johnson's, Richard Nixon's, Gerald Ford's, Ronald Reagan's, George Bush's 1 and 2, Bill Clinton's and Barack Obama's feet to the fire whenever she got a chance to do so.
Helen Thomas was an accomplished Reporter who has had a long and distinguished career. Perhaps it was time for her to retire anyway but she deserved better than to be tossed into the trash heap of history on a trumped up charge of racism that I don't believe is credible.
I would guess that I am not the only one who has had older people in my family that I loved but could not discuss blacks or jews with. Lovely people, for the most part, who grew up in another era in which racism not only existed but was a fact of life. I learned to love those people and to forgive them their faults in that one area and trained myself not to talk about subjects in which we were never going to agree and were probably going to get into terrible arguments.
I think Helen Thomas is probably one of those people who, like my relatives, couldn't help herself and like my relatives, did so much good that this one flaw in her conduct and personal record needs to be forgiven.
This Historically Significant Woman Correspondent was a real Journalistic Pioneer and does not deserve to be tossed out of the White House Press room without attention paid to her countless commendations for journalistic excellence and her many years of gutsy advocacy in favor of the American people and against American involvements in Wars where we didn't belong.
Yes she certainly was not flawless but then, who among us is.