Over the years, Helen Thomas went from tough adversarial questioner of the powerful to hateful bigot. Too bad. From her front-row perch at White House press briefings, for many years she did the right thing by asking tough questions about U.S. justifications for wars, and to her credit she did not allow herself to get co-opted into the establishment mentality like so many Washington journalists. But with the passage of time she became less of a questioning journalist and more of a columnist with an agenda, and now she has been forced out because of disgusting anti-Semitic comments.
It’s too bad that she has discredited herself this way at the end. There was a time when her aggressive questioning was appropriate, especially as a challenger to administration spokespersons who tried to play down the horrors of war.
As CBS’s veteran White House correspondent Mark Knoller writes:
During a heated exchange on November 30, 2007, White House press secretary Dana Perino got decidedly fed up with Thomas when one of her questions suggested the president was oblivious to the deaths of innocent people in Iraq.
“Helen, I find it really unfortunate that you use your front row position, bestowed upon you by your colleagues, to make such statements,” scolded Perino.
She told Thomas that “to suggest that we, the United States, are killing innocent people is just absurd and very offensive.”
But Thomas, then 86-years old, didn’t back down:
THOMAS: Do you know how many we have (killed) since the start of this war?
MS. PERINO: How many — we are going after the enemy, Helen. To the extent that any innocent Iraqis have been killed, we have expressed regret for it.
THOMAS: Oh, regret? It doesn’t bring back a life.
MS. PERINO: Helen, we are in a war zone, and our military works extremely hard to make sure that everyone has the opportunity for liberty and freedom and democracy, and that is exactly what they are doing.
But for all the credit she deserves for earlier being properly adversarial toward the flacks for war policies, her hurtful anti-Semitic comments at the end were inexcusable. An ignoble departure.