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.
Those who awarded her respect often did so because she was one of the first women in the press corps. But honoring this accomplishment came with a hefty price: ignoring the blatant bias of her questions and rudeness of her conduct. Media liberals offered her more than respect. They clearly enjoyed her ranting outbursts from the hard left. When she mocked Bush and American military action, this hater spoke for them, saying the ugly things they wanted said.
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank is a good example. He disparaged her hateful Palestine remarks, but then hailed Thomas for offering "a ferocity to her questioning that has eluded too many in subsequent generations. At a time when others were getting cozy with sources, her crabby, unrelenting hostility was refreshing." Journalists cherish ferocity and unrelenting hostility -- when it comes from journalists.
Milbank still fondly recalled how Thomas yelled at President Obama just two weeks ago. "When are you going to get out of Afghanistan? ... Why are we continuing to kill and die there? What is the real excuse? And don't give us this Bushism, 'If we don't go there, they'll all come here.'"
Milbank did not note the irony from his own newspaper on June 7, with the front-page story about the two aspiring jihadis who were nabbed by the feds in New Jersey as they attempted to travel to Somalia to join the terrorist group al-Shabab. One had said to an undercover cop he would be "doing killing here, if I can't do it over there." Thomas thought her opponents were relentlessly dogmatic, but her unjust-war-on-terror narrative never acknowledged some jihadis want to kill us. In fact, they've already killed more than 3,000 of us.
The coverage of her retirement was sickening. ABC, CBS and NBC all marked her retirement in a very narrow way. There was the offensive clip, and CBS and NBC allowed Obama flack Robert Gibbs to distance the White House from those remarks. But beyond that, the only sound bites came from sympathetic media colleagues, wishing her well.
ABC reporter Dan Harris even suggested Thomas should get a break for her Jew-hating because she's approaching senility: "After all, many of us have elderly relatives who have lost their verbal filter." So we should feel sorry for this hater?
Helen Thomas is leaving the White House with all the hate she's been bringing to the grounds for decades. Despite their ill-advised adoration, the White House press corps has been improved by her retirement.