It was just over a year ago that Helen Thomas offered to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by moving Israel to … Montenegro, or Alsace-Lorraine, or perhaps Malta — anywhere but where Jews have lived for millenia. After telling Israelis that they were really Europeans and should stop pretending to be natives to their land, Thomas “retired” under fire from all sides, including her fellow White House correspondents and the Obama White House itself. She eventually got a new job as a columnist for a small Virginia newspaper, though, and now wants to return to the White House briefing room. However, the phone ain’t exactly ringing off the hook for her big comeback:
In an appearance at the Busboys & Poets bookstore in Washington, D.C. on Sunday afternoon, embattled former Hearst newspapers columnist Helen Thomas, once known as the dean of the White House press corps, said she misses her spot in the White House briefing room.
“Nothing can replace being there when you’re a reporter,” Thomas said. “Seeing with your own eyes — no, nothing can replace that. I was very lucky to cover history for so long.”
Thomas lost her spot in 2010 after making some ill-advised remarks some regarded as anti-Semitic. Anas “Andy” Shallal, the owner of Busboys & Poets and moderator for her appearance Sunday, followed up by asking her if she had reapplied for those credentials. According to Thomas, she said she had but hadn’t gotten an official response and assumed she had been denied.
“In a back way,” Thomas said. “I’ve been denied – I think so, I never heard.”
To be clear, the White House itself has no direct role in issuing credentials. The press, through the White House Correspondents Association, issues credentials and makes the decision as to who qualifies as media. They’ve been remarkably flexible in the past few years, allowing bloggers to have seats in the room, including my friend Tommy Christopher even when he wasn’t affiliated with AOL or Mediaite.
Still, one can’t help but believe that Obama’s press team had to have some input on the Thomas request. The last person they want to see having soundbites in the briefing room is Thomas, especially after her June 2010 rant about the Jews and Israel. If so, the WHCA probably didn’t need much convincing. Its members got hounded by angry bloggers and readers to make statements of support or criticism of Thomas for her remarks until she “retired” from UPI and lost the reserved seat that should have been reclaimed decades earlier. Readmitting Thomas would start that process all over again, this time with more legitimacy in terms of which members green-lighted her application. I’m pretty sure that the number of members who want to put themselves in that position approaches zero.