The last two presidents have been elected on the very dubious campaign promise of "changing the tone" of Washington. Either could have proven his sincerity by shredding the credentials of the White House press corps Dean of Mean, Helen Thomas. Her tone was nasty, and her "questions" usually meant more as insults than as requests for information. Still, presidents and journalists alike bowed and scraped before her, as if she were the Queen of All Media.
Her reign ended with an implosion. A rabbi and two high-school kids in yarmulkes exposed Thomas as not merely anti-Israel, but anti-Semitic. Asked her opinion about the Jews at a Jewish heritage event at the White House, this daughter of Lebanese immigrants said they should "get the hell out of Palestine," and when asked where they should go, she snapped "home" to Germany and Poland, where so many were massacred in the Holocaust.
Thomas apologized quickly, then retired from her Hearst column after these remarks. Whether it was voluntary or mandatory is unclear. What is clear, however, is that some in the press returned immediately to kissing her ring. "Few White House correspondents ever achieved her high profile and respectability," raved Jeremy Peters in The New York Times. "From her coveted seat in the front row of the White House briefing room to her ability to cow even the most hardened White House press secretary, Ms. Thomas was a legend in Washington."
The Helen Thomas "legend" devolved over the last decade after she left UPI, from annoying liberal Reagan-bashing scold to fire-breathing ogre. She bluntly admitted she was a hater in 2002: "I censored myself for 50 years. ... Now I wake up and ask myself, 'Who do I hate today?'" Is that the sound of rarified respectability, New York Times?
She clearly hated anyone who would wage a war on Islamic radicalism. Thomas sneered at press secretary Ari Fleischer in December 2001 about President Bush: "I'm taking note of his wide-swinging threats in speeches recently. What makes him think that he has the right to go into a sovereign country and bomb the people?" Before the Iraq War in 2003, she demanded to know "Why does he want to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis?" In her questions, the Americans were always psychotic killers of innocent civilians.