Who cares what Helen Thomas thinks?
Walt Whitman HIgh School in Bethesda was right to cancel a speech by longtime journalist Helen Thomas after her over-the-top remarks about Israel, saying that the Jews should go back to Germany and Poland.
But one wonders why anyone really cares what Thomas, 89, says these days. Her distinguished reporting career with dying United Press International came to an end a decade ago, and her final retirement was announced today.
To be sure, Thomas was a pioneer. When she started in journalism more than half a century ago, female reporters were considered frivolous or oddities. This type of sexism endured for years. When I was a summer intern at a Southern metropolitan paper around 1973, the newspaper had recently been sued for paying all male reporters on an "A" scale and all females on a lesser "B" scale.
Thomas was a pioneer as the first female president of the National Press Club and the first woman to go with Richard Nixon on his groundbreaking trip to the People's Republic of China.
But she also was the first female "dean" of White House correspondents, and that could be a big part of the problem. This may go down badly for a D.C. audience, but being part of the White House pack means tightly controlled access and lots of manipulation by whatever administration is in charge. There are lots of hidebound rules and traditions that have more to do with promoting stenography than aggressive journalism.
I never was a White House correspondent, but I did work with them during summits between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev and later between Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin. White House correspondents were the ultimate generalists but didn't seem to get much below the surface. They seemed like pigeons in a cage.
Coming from this world, Thomas probably doesn't know all that much about Israel, Palestine or the Middle East despite her decades in the business. I doubt she speaks any of the languages or has studied the region in depth.
And being the "dean" seems oh-so-1950s. That moniker is is just as irrelevant as Helen Thomas has unfortunately become.
| June 7, 2010; 2:49 PM ET
Categories: D.C., D.C. politics, Maryland, Montgomery County, media
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