Perhaps Helen Thomas hoped that her apology would suffice in tamping down the furor over her videotaped rant telling the Jews to “get the hell out of Palestine.” It turns out that even her own agents didn’t buy it. Nine Speaker announced that it has dropped Thomas as a client, while Lanny Davis blasted the doyenne of the White House Press Corps as “an anti-Semitic bigot”:
Senior White House Press Corps member Helen Thomas may have apologized for her recent on-camera remarks calling on Jews to “get the hell out of Palestine” and go home to Europe, but her reputation seems beyond repair amid the abounding calls for her resignation.
In the wake of the incident, Thomas’ agent Nine Speaker Inc. announced that it would no longer represent her.
“It is with a heavy heart that Nine Speakers Inc. announces its resignation as the agent for Helen Thomas, Dean of the White House Press Corps,” wrote Diane Nine, agency president.
“Ms. Thomas has had an esteemed career as a journalist, and she has been a trailblazer for women, helping others in her profession, and beyond. However, in light of recent events, Nine Speakers is no longer able to represent Ms. Thomas, nor can we condone her comments on the Middle East,” wrote Nine.
Meanwhile, Bill Clinton’s former White House counsel denounced Thomas, and challenged the White House Correspondents Association to defend any continued access to the WHPC:
“Helen Thomas, who I used to consider a close friend and who I used to respect, has showed herself to be an anti-Semitic bigot,” wrote Davis in a statement.. “She has a right to criticize Israel…. However, her statement that Jews in Israel should leave Israel and go back to Poland or Germany is an ancient and well-known anti-Semitic stereotype of the alien Jew not belonging in the land of Israel that began 2,600 years with the first tragic and violent Diaspora caused bythe Romans.”
“If she had asked all blacks to go back to Africa, what would the White House Correspondents Association’s position be as to whether she deserved WhiteHouse press room credentials – much less a privileged honorary seat?” wrote Davis, referring to Thomas’ seat in the middle of the front row at the White House briefing room.
“Does anyone doubt that my friends Ann Compton and Joe Lockhart, whobelieve in the First Amendment right of free expression as much as I do,would not be as tolerant and protective of Helen’s privileges and honorsif she had been asking Blacks to return to Africa? Or Native Americans to Asia and South America, from which they came 8,000 or more years ago? I doubt it”, concluded Davis.
The bigger question will be how long Thomas has the qualification to carry a press credential at all. Hearst Newspapers didn’t exactly give Thomas a ringing vote of confidence yesterday in their only reaction to the controversy, as Greg Sargent noted:
Asked if Hearst would keep her, Hearst Newspapers spokesman Paul Luthringer emailed me this:
“We deeply regret Helen Thomas’ remarks, which in no way reflect the views of Hearst Newspapers or its employees. Helen has expressed her own profound regret over the incident.”Asked again whether Hearst would keep her, Luthringer refused to go beyond this statement.
If Hearst cuts Thomas loose, the WHCA will be relieved to get off the hook for what promises to be a very tough decision. If not, they will have to answer Lanny Davis’ challenge.
Update: Jennifer Rubin reports on the Anti-Defamation League position:
Helen Thomas’s statement of regret does not go far enough. Her remarks were outrageous, offensive and inappropriate, especially since she uttered them on a day the White House had set aside to celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of American Jews during Jewish America Heritage Month.
Her suggestion that Israelis should go back to Poland and Germany is bigoted and shows a profound ignorance of history. We believe Thomas needs to make a more forceful and sincere apology for the pain her remarks have caused.
Jennifer also argues that this will put pressure on the Obama administration to demand Thomas’ removal. That depends on how much the White House values the ADL’s opinion, which I would guess wouldn’t be much. Also, it’s my impression that the White House has traditionally let the WHCA handle the question of credentialling in order to avoid getting caught up in precisely this kind of controversy and to keep allegations of favoritism or political paybacks out of access to the briefings. I doubt very much that the White House will do anything more now than punt.