Helen Thomas returns from retirement with new column in Falls Church community weekly
Seven months into an unwilling retirement, Helen Thomas is reentering the world of journalism -- with a column in a Northern Virginia community weekly.
The veteran Washington correspondent-turned-columnist, 90, made her Falls Church News-Press debut Thursday, with a piece decrying efforts to privatize Social Security. It's a far cry from a syndicated column and a front-row seat in the White House briefing room -- but hey, these days, a platform's a platform. Her essay seemed to be a reader-magnet for the paper's Web site, drawing more than 100 comments (cheers and jeers) by 6 p.m. Owner/editor Nicholas Benton insisted Thomas was a natural fit for his publication.
The uproar over Thomas -- who in June stepped down from her Hearst Newspapers job after she was videotaped telling a rabbi that Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine" -- has barely died down; despite attempts to explain her comments, things flared up again last month when Thomas told a conference that "Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street are owned by the Zionists."
But Benton, while acknowledging that Thomas' s comments were inappropriate, defends her, saying she misspoke and was misunderstood; her meaning, he said, was that "Jewish people can live wherever they want."
"I've had no less than eight hours of personal one-on-one conversations with her since that happened," he said. "She's not bigoted or racist or anti-Semitic. She has her differences about foreign policy but you're allowed that."
Benton himself knows controversy. A gay-rights activist in early '70s Berkeley, he became a lieutenant in the fringe-left movement of perennial candidate Lyndon LaRouche -- he met Thomas while covering the White House for a LaRouche publication -- before splitting away disenchanted in the '80s, according to a 2007 essay he wrote for the News-Press. In 2004, his paper touched nerves with an editorial that some Jewish leaders complained suggested a Jewish cabal controlling U.S. foreign policy. Benton has also argued in favor of journalists making contributions to political campaigns -- as he does to Democrats -- and going public with their beliefs.
Benton said the News-Press started carrying Thomas's Hearst column in 2004, and she's attended a handful of events thrown by the paper. (We did not hear back from Thomas by press time.) Will her column have the same punch if she's no longer embedded at the White House?
"She is incredibly sharp and savvy," Benton argued, and very plugged-in: "You can be in front of a TV set with your favorite 24-hour news station, and you're not missing much." Though he added that he hopes she's comfortable returning to the press briefing room from time to time. "She's a rock star. She should be writing again. . . She's the Betty White of American journalism -- I don't know if you want to say that, does that diminish her?"
The Reliable Source
| January 6, 2011; 6:30 PM ET
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