Before today, Helen Thomas was unarguably the most famous member of the White House Press Corps. With her push into retirement today over comments regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she has made the move to most infamous.
Thomas, 89, has been a correspondent for fifty-seven years and has covered every president since Eisenhower. A legend in the White House Press Room, she was the only journalist to have a seat reserved for her, and one on the front row at that. She broke numerous glass ceilings for women in journalism, including being the first female officer in the National Press Club, the first female officer in the White House Correspondents Association, and its first female president in 1975-6. Thomas’s numerous other achievements and awards can be found in the biography section of her website (http://www.helenthomas.org/helenthomasbiography.html). Thomas has published five books and was still an active White House correspondent, most recently representing Hearst Newspapers. All these feats are impressive, and her level of activity at an age when most are forced to resign themselves to lives of relaxation and relegation by society was something to be admired.
All of this ended today, however, when Thomas announced that she was retiring in light of comments she made regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The video has become a YouTube sensation, and at the time that I wrote this it had 1,216,339 views. Here’s the video. Please note that the comments at the end are not my own, but rather the creator of the video’s.
Thomas apologizes for the comments on her website, http://www.helenthomas.org/home.html :
Helen Thomas issued the following statement 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.” (June 4, 2010)
While many applaud Thomas’s retirement over these controversial statements, others blame the lack of filter on her age. I think blaming or excusing the comments on the basis of her age is ridiculous: obviously this woman is still sharp-minded or she wouldn’t still be publishing books and working as a journalist. Many groups found her comments to be offensive and are glad that a journalist who holds such opinions will no longer be reporting.
My view is a little different, however. I do not agree with Thomas’s comments and do find them offensive to Israel and its citizens. But is Thomas not allowed to have a different opinion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and still be allowed to work? I understand and respect that Israel is an ally to the United States and that is recognized as an autonomous nation, whereas Palestine does not have such international recognition. But is Thomas not entitled to her own opinion? In my opinion, nothing about her comments was hateful. She just stated her opinion that she favors Palestine in the conflict. Again, I do not agree with Thomas, but I find it odd that she no longer has a career because of making opinionated comments, something countless other journalists, writers, and political commentators do every day.