The character of Helen Thomas has long been a caricature of tenacious White House press correspondents, and in her tenacity, has inspired many people to pursue her kind of career longevity, or if you're SNL, lampoon her in any sketch involving a White House press conference. (Ana Gasteyer, who developed her "Helen Thomas" impression/character at the Groundlings in Los Angeles, took the impression to SNL in 1996.) She was the old gray lady in the room, the NY Times of press correspondents, the legacy grand dame of journalism, who didn't let her age get in the way of asking questions of whoever the reigning president was for the last ten Presidents over 58 years. When it came to news, she'd seen it all, and all the important people knew who she was. Ten months ago, she and the President, who share a birthday, also shared a plate of cupcakes before a press conference. In that room, she's an institution.
That legacy took a strange turn last week, with the release of the now infamous video (at over 1.3 million views) in which the esteemed Thomas, snarling at the camera with what seems like ferocious glee, commented on the situation in the Middle East by telling Jews to "get the hell out of Palestine," and to "go back to Germany and Poland."
But even minimal internet research (which, I know, isn't the same as actual academic research) reveals that Thomas has been a regular critic of Israel, and any President who she perceives as "one-sided" on the subject of Israel, for years.
In an interview by a young journalist, on the eve of the Obama inauguration, Thomas blamed Bush for being one-sided on the issue of Israel, "not giving Palestinians one chance," while giving Israel weapons, bombs, etc - noting that "we have done nothing to stop the killing and the bombardment that's absolutely inhuman [...] absolutely genocide because of the bombs that Israelis have - cluster bombs in the shape of candy bars" (what?) and "not only in Gaza, but in Iraq [...] we have blood on our hands." (Minimal internet research indicates that cluster bombs, like those used in the last Lebanon war, are about the same shape and size as candy bars, but my search was not exhaustive.)
In a clip released March 27, Thomas called Israelis "Europeans who have no ties to Palestine." She criticized Obama for "taking the easy way out" and going along with the Israelis. "They control, they have mass power," she said. The interviewer, from TheRealNews.com, asked her for clarification, and she said that "they" were "the Zionists."
So, after 58 years of developing these opinions and being fairly consistent in criticizing Israel no matter what, maybe what Helen Thomas really needs is a college course about Jewish and Israeli history. At least that's what JerusalemOnlineUniversity.com is suggesting in a new press release.
"Israel Inside Out. Accredited by Touro College, Israel Inside Out’s curriculum is taught by noted instructors such as Princeton Professor Bernard Lewis, Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz, Bar Ilan University Professor Mordechai Kedar, and distinguished British historian, Sir Martin Gilbert."subscription to their course [a $600 value],
When journalists do not know basic facts, history is distorted and media bias increases strife and violence. In order to provide a non-partisan, rigorous academic education about Israel’s history and international relations, JerusalemOnlineUniversity.com, a distance learning program was created. JerusalemOnlineUniversity.com offers academic courses in positive psychology, Jewish history, and Israeli history and international relations. [source: press release, JerusalemOnlineUniversity.com]
Effective immediately, Helen Thomas is "retiring." And honestly, it's probably time. The way I see it, advising Jews to go back to Poland and Germany is either glib, racist or just plain ignorant. (Liebensraum, anyone?) While Thomas made no secret of her disdain for the Zionists and the Presidents who "one-sidedly" supported them, her comments in this footage - taken at the American Jewish Heritage Month celebration at the White House - seem to indicate the dissolution of her own journalistic filter. With only bias left, what results is her very own version of the one-sidedness she accuses past Presidents of. Perhaps she felt that her one-side, together with the Presidential one-side, totaled fair and balanced.
The challenge for many now will be to remember Thomas's considerable achievement as an iconic journalist and a glass ceiling-shattering woman, independent of her final pre-retirement moment as a professional journalist. Especially as the snarky web weighs in - witness the first entry in this category, the FakeHelenThomas Twitter feed, complete with profile description: "Former White House Pool reporter. Next week starting as Communications Officer for Hamas."