“There was this sense that she alone asked the hard questions and she alone stood up to them,” said Julie Mason, White House correspondent of the Washington Examiner. “But she was a columnist sitting in the front row. She had a certain latitude that a straight news reporter didn’t. We can’t stand up and scream ‘Liar!’ at the press secretary.
“But she did all the time. It was uncomfortable for some of us — a lot of us, I would say, because she was always held up as what the rest of us should have been doing, but we’re not columnists, we’re news reporters.”
All of this, despite the fact that very few papers actually ran Thomas’s column and even fewer Washington types took the time to read it – or care about it…
“Her bias regarding Israel has long been known to anyone – including this commentator – who has spent five minutes in her company,” wrote Boston University professor Robert Zelnick, a former ABC correspondent in the POLITICO Arena.
She was a very big name for UPI back then in the 1970s. When I was an editor in Washington, I recall late night, distinctly boozy, phone calls from Martha Mitchell. “Where’s Helen?” Mrs. Mitchell would yell into the telephone. Minutes later, I would locate Helen, put her together with Martha, and the world would get a huge scoop on Watergate the next day.
But Helen had – and has — a blind spot. It was no secret at UPI, but I do not remember that it ever seeped into her stories. And I used to edit a lot of them.
“She asked questions no hard-news reporter would ask, that carried an agenda and reflected her point of view, and there were some reporters who felt that was inappropriate,” said CBS correspondent Mark Knoller. “As a columnist she felt totally unbound from any of the normal policies of objectivity that every other reporter in the room felt compelled to abide by, and sometimes her questions were embarrassing to other reporters.”…
“She’s always said crazy stuff,” said National Review Online columnist Jonah Goldberg. “One reason she gets a pass is that there’s an entrenched system of deference to seniority in the White House press corps. . . . This newfound horror and dismay that people are expressing about Helen Thomas are beyond a day late and a dollar short.”…
Mark Rabin, a former freelance cameraman for CNN, said that in a 2002 conversation at the White House, Thomas said “thank God for Hezbollah” for driving Israel out of Lebanon, adding that “Israel is the cause for 99 percent of all this terrorism.”
[W]ith those comments, we lost an icon. Because all of the foregoing — being the first female officer of the National Press Club, the first female member of the White House Correspondents Association — and its first female president — none of that is enough to give her a pass.
It’s not enough to have spent a lifetime being an awesome, trailblazing journalistic and feminist icon. Because longer still than the shadow cast by such a great career is the one cast by the Holocaust. There are still people living in this country — and many others, not the least of which is Israel — who have numbers tattooed on their arms from concentration camps. People who remember seeing their mothers or fathers or brothers or sisters torn away from them and packed on trains taking them to their deaths. People who couldn’t go back to where their families came from in Germany or Poland even if they wanted to, because entire villages were wiped out…
I wish Helen Thomas hadn’t said those things, and I truly wish she hadn’t thought them. But she did. Which means that, sad as I am, Helen Thomas can no longer be a hero to me.