Fifty years of Presidential coverage came to an end today as Helen Thomas stepped down from her position at Hearst, the second in her long and storied career as a White House correspondent. Her retirement announcement comes on the heels of controversial comments she made during what The Hill describes as “a White House event on May 27 celebrating Jewish heritage.”
Thomas (in)famously opined that Israeli Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go back home to Poland, Germany, America and everywhere else.”
A lot of people are, no doubt, very happy to see Helen Thomas go. The Dean of the White House Press Corps has shown herself to be among Washington’s most vocal liberals and has used her position to demand answers to difficult questions from both the Bush and Obama administrations. Yet, while American audiences have been quick to call commentators on the carpet for insensitive, racist, or otherwise inappropriate comments, perhaps Thomas’ unceremonious departure from political journalism should be cause for some media introspection.
Yes, Helen Thomas voiced a contentious and controversial opinion. The Israel/Palestine question is among the most reliable hot-button topics in world politics. Israel is among the United State’s closest allies and certainly Thomas’ comments ruffled some very important feathers. Yet, it would be dishonest to pretend that the Israel/Palestine question is meaningfully resolved upon the world stage.
Every day that rockets cross the border between Gaza and Israel, every day that shells fall on Gaza or that Israel or Egypt interdict supplies bound for Gazan markets, the world is reminded of the fact that, for centuries, the land presently labeled “Israel” on our maps was once “Palestine.” Treaties and colonial powers very literally created the Jewish Homeland by drawing lines upon a map and they did so without so much as a thought for the individuals, families, and people who had called those lands “home” since Roman times.
Helen Thomas expressed an opinion shared by billions of people all over the world. She expressed that opinion crassly and perhaps without her customary degree of tact, but to pretend that her opinion is in some way aberrant or unacceptable is pathetic. The United States is well served by an independent media that need not fear the consequences of making unpopular statements and presenting challenging ideas.
A journalistic legend has been forced to go quietly into the night over what is fundamentally a deeply main-stream, if unpopular, opinion; we are all a little less for that.