Corbin H. Crable
It’s a shame Helen Thomas’s career had to end this way.
The Hearst newspapers columnist and longtime White House Press Corps member resigned from her post at Hearst on Tuesday amid furor over comments she made late last month. Thomas, already an outspoken critic of Israel, advocated for Jews to “get the hell out of Palestine” and then “go home … to Poland, Germany … America and everywhere else.”
Her comments immediately drew a firestorm of rebukes from journalists, bloggers and politicians, including former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and the White House itself. Many urged Hearst to terminate Thomas’s employment. Thomas later apologized.
She resigned from her position on Tuesday after a long, storied career spanning 50 years and every American president from Kennedy to Obama. Thomas traveled with Richard Nixon to China in the early 1970s and occupied the coveted first-row middle seat in the White House briefing room. She was known for always ending press conferences with, “Thank you, Mr. President.” And as she was known as a fiercely aggressive journalist who never hesitated to ask the tough questions, Thomas was equally known for her expressed sympathies toward Palestine.
This situation is a classic case of having the name recognition, the respect among your friends and enemies alike, the long career, and throwing it all away with a few words. In my opinion, although Thomas has a track record of shooting from the hip when it comes to expressing her own opinions – in inappropriate venues, I might add – it seems she had become a bit too comfortable in her front-row seat in the White House briefing room.
Such things can happen to journalists and politicians alike when they have been in the public eye for too long and take their status for granted.
Thanks to our protection of free speech, Thomas is free, of course, to say whatever she wishes. But simply because we are able to say something doesn’t mean it should be said.
Comments such as these – by a journalist, no less – have no place coming out of the mouth of someone who is supposed to objectively cover the news. As a journalist, it is our job to tell a story. If we must make a statement on an issue or topic of the day, we save that for the opinion page or the opinion section of a website.
But for Thomas to so carelessly express such hurtful statements paints a black mark not only on her career, but on the reputation of Hearst as well. Her apology came too late to perform any real damage control, and Thomas did do the right thing by resigning.
It is only too unfortunate, however, that someone known as a government watchdog could not simply keep watch on her own language.
Thomas’s failure to censor herself shows all of us – journalist, politician and private citizen alike – that the careless choice of a few words can have a profound impact on how we are viewed. We would serve ourselves well if we were to keep ourselves in check and save the privilege of free speech for when it serves an actual purpose.
Thomas's gaffe not freedom of speech case
Corbin H. Crable