White House blasts absent Thomas in today's briefing; Update: Thomas announces retirement; Update: WH briefing video added

Guess who didn’t show up for work today?  ABC’s Sunlen Miller reports that the seat normally occupied by Hearst Newspapers columnist Helen Thomas was mysteriously empty in today’s press briefing.  Thomas understood that the White House would have to respond today to her comments about sending Jews packing for Germany and Poland (and the US!) from a land where they have lived for five millenia, and Robert Gibbs provided the expected disapproval:

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs today called Helen Thomas’ remarks, “offensive and reprehensible.”

“I think she should and has apologized,” Gibbs said at the daily briefing today, “Obviously those remarks are — do not reflect certainly the opinion of most people in here, and certainly not of the administration.” …

Helen Thomas’ front row briefing room seat was empty today, as she did not show up for the daily briefing.

Gibbs also told reporters that he hasn’t briefed Barack Obama on Thomas’ remarks as yet.  Does anyone buy that?  If Obama dropped by for an impromptu session with the White House press corps, wouldn’t Gibbs have warned Obama not to call on Thomas?

Meanwhile, Yid with Lid says that firing Thomas won’t really solve anything:

Strangely, though I think that Ms Thomas’ comments were horrible and very anti-Semitic I do not necessarily agree that Ms. Thomas should be fired for her anti-Semitic rantings. Helen Thomas is merely a symptom of the problem, not the disease. Firing her would be like treating HIV with a band aid.

The mainstream media which is politically correct about every other ethnic group, feature anti-Semites all of the time without barely a peep about their hatred. I wonder if there would be the same calls for Thomas’ head if she hadn’t already been considered something of a joke by the press corps, someone who has stayed on long past their time.

Just examine the facts; Pat Buchanan who is a holocaust revisionist has a daily gig on MSNBC. Some of Buchanan’s anti-Semitic greatest hits include being, labeled a Jew hater by William F Buckley, blaming the Iraq war on Jews in theAmerican Government, saying the Mossad was behind 9/11 and claiming there were too many Jews on the Supreme Court.

Neither does James Joyner, who marvels at the shock, shock of discovering Thomas is “a crazy old bat”:

Now, I’m no fan of Helen Thomas.  I thought she was an over-the-hill embarrassment during the Bush Administration.   The George H. W. Bush Administration.   She’s a lousy columnist and holds some rather bizarre views on a wide variety of subjects.  And, despite her being a pioneer who has refused to go away, I don’t think she should have a place reserved for her in White House press conferences, much less in the front row.

All that said, I’m with John Cole and Stacy McCain — a rather rare alignment of the poles! — in thinking it rather unsporting to continue piling on a crazy old woman for saying outrageous things.  The sky is blue.  Water is wet. Helen Thomas is a nut.

Beyond that, I’m befuddled that so many bloggers are so enthusiastic about getting someone fired over airing controversial views.   That’s the nature of our enterprise, isn’t it?

He makes a good point in that regard, but the rather extreme nature of cheering ethnic cleansing makes it a little difficult to get past her comments.  The argument for kicking her out of the briefing room, as I’ve seen it, is that Thomas is only there in an honorary capacity, having ceased being a news reporter decades ago.  No other opinion columnist gets that kind of perch in the briefing room, and her continued presence in an honorary position would tend to honor also her extreme views.  The solution to that would be to move Thomas to the back of the room, where other opiners normally go.

The other argument pertains to her employment at Hearst.  This is more of a tu quoque argument, in that the people defending Thomas would demand her termination if she had demanded that the federal government round up all illegal aliens, put them in camps, and deport them.  And that’s probably true, as we have seen in the reaction to Erick Erickson‘s hiring at CNN, for a much milder example of controversial statements, but if that was wrong, then so would be a demand for Hearst to fire Thomas for her outburst, which wasn’t really all that surprising, given her history of observations on the subject.  However, that doesn’t let Hearst off the hook for their relationship; if she’s an anti-Semitic bigot, then it’s fair game to point out that Hearst is giving her a platform and that those offended by it might want to take their business elsewhere.

This controversy won’t go away soon; supposedly, the same person has more video of Thomas expounding on her observations of Jews and Israelis.  We’ll see whether that pushes Thomas into retirement, whether she gets there first, or at all.

Update: Hearst just announced that Thomas will retire:

Helen Thomas announced Monday that she is retiring, effective immediately.

Her decision came after her controversial comments about Israel and the Palestinians were captured on videotape and widely disseminated on the Internet.

Thomas later issued a statement: “I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.’’

Thomas will mark her 90th birthday on Aug. 4.

The Hearst website is temporarily down, thanks to the traffic hitting the site.

Update II: Just one step ahead of the comeuppance, apparently:

“Helen Thomas’ comments were indefensible and the White House Correspondents Association board firmly dissociates itself from them. Many in our profession who have known Helen for years were saddened by the comments, which were especially unfortunate in light of her role as a trail blazer on the White House beat. . .

“[T]he incident does revive the issue of whether it is appropriate  for an opinion columnist to have a front row seat in the WH briefing room. That is an issue under the jurisdiction of this board. We are actively seeking input from our association members on this important matter, and we have scheduled a special  meeting of the WHCA board on Thursday to decide on the seating issue.”

Now they’re off the hook, but it does appear that the WHCA was prepared to take action.  Good for them, and they framed it properly, too.

Update III: It was Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher who asked the question of Gibbs this morning, which is interesting in that Tommy has defended Thomas on occasion:

Mediaite’s own Tommy Christopher asked if President Obama had “any reaction to the controversy over Helen’s remarks?” Gibbs was clearly ready for the question and made clear that her comments did not reflect the opinion of the White House.

Helen Thomas has enjoyed legendary status in the Press Room, in part due to her deserved status as feminist pioneer as well as her notoriety for holding administration’s feet to the fire over issues and policies with which she disagrees. And while her friends in the press briefing room are likely torn over seeing thier friend endure this controversy (of her own making by the way) there is growing sentiment that she might lose her job over her comments.

Tommy didn’t write the post; Colby Hall wrote it, both of whom are friends of mine. Tommy will have more thoughts on this story later today, focusing on the reaction in the White House press corps to the controversy. Should be interesting.