Saying Goodbye to Helen Thomas

800px-HelenThomasAndBarackObama2009The well-known White House reporter, Helen Thomas, died on July 20 at the age of 92.This paragraph from the Washington Post obituary for Helen Thomas sums up my view of her:

When President George H.W. Bush announced that the defense budget would remain the same after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of communism in Europe, she succinctly asked, ‘Who’s the enemy?’”

I see her sitting in the front row in the White House briefing room daring to go where no man has gone before (Hi there fellow Trekkies!). Her willingness to take on every one of the 10 presidents she covered is legendary. She was a hawk ready to pounce surrounded by an otherwise passive & pigeon-witted press.

Up until 2010, Helen Thomas was on my very short list of women-to-greatly-admire which includes Molly Ivins, Ann Richards, Nancy Pelosi: sharp-tongued, aggressive, and completely detached from foolish male notions of womanhood.

Then in 2010, Helen Thomas broke my heart.

A video of her responding to a request to comment on Israel was posted all over the internet:

“Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine… Remember, these people are occupied and it’s their land. It’s not German, it’s not Poland…”

When she was asked where they should go, what should they do, she said “Go home.”

Where’s home? “Poland, Germany… and America and everywhere else.”

Let me explain where I’m coming from in my unhappiness with her comment. I don’t support the current (or any recent) Israeli government. I think the Israeli occupation of Palestine is both morally and politically wrong. I think Palestinians should have their own nation. I think Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people goes against everything I grew up learning and valuing as a Jewish American. And I agree with Helen Thomas that people shouldn’t be pushed out. So many Palestinians have been and I understand her anger.

But to suggest that Jews should “go home” to Poland or Germany is beyond hurtful. WWII ended those places as homes for Jews, ended it in a most horrific way. A significant number of Jews in Israel are there because they were being mass-murdered in Poland, Germany and other European countries. Those countries are not their homes. Israel is. Israel and Palestine need to learn to coexist because both of them are legitimate homes for their peoples.

However, despite my unhappiness with what Helen Thomas said, I can take a step back and look at the whole woman. Many decades of excellent journalism certainly are worth far more than one stupid ugly statement. And I will give her one other benefit of the doubt. All of us have thoughts that we know are racist or sexist or unkind or stupid, thoughts we are ashamed of having. Part of the social contract is to keep those thoughts to ourselves. I have noticed that many people, as they age, seem to start losing control over which thoughts they actually speak. This is not ageist on my part, since I’m well above 60 myself. I’m aware of my own tendencies in this regard, and have seen it in my husband and, for many years, in my MIL. Maybe Helen Thomas suffered from that same malady.

One statement cannot and should not wipe out a lifetime of good work. So, I bid a sad goodbye to a great reporter, a ground breaking professional, a sharp wit, and person eminently worthy of being on my women-to-greatly-admire list.


Marti Teitelbaum lives in the Washington, D.C. area. She is the mother of two high-energy girls (a twenty-something future radical social worker and a finally full teen 13-year-old!) and is married to a psychiatrist who devotes half his work life to a child mental health clinic. For almost 20 years, Marti used her degree in public health to work for the Children’s Defense Fund, producing most of their numbers on children’s health, disability, health insurance, Medicaid, and immunization. She has always been a political junkie and a fiber-holic and now, for the first time in her life, has the time to indulge in both of these addictions. Politics and weaving have a lot in common: both take a lot of thought and preparation and both have a lot of complicated entanglements. But the difference is that weaving calms the soul and produces something useful and potentially beautiful. Politics doesn’t.

Photo Credit: Wikicommons

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