In the movie Animal House, the Deltas are put on trial for their antics. When offered a chance to defend themselves, the best argument the fraternity's president can come up with is, "But sir, Delta Tau Chi has a long tradition of existence to its members and to the community at large."
The line came to mind as I read through the obituaries for Helen Thomas, the longtime White House correspondent for UPI and, for a decade, a left-wing columnist for the Hearst newspapers.
Thomas did help break down the barriers to women in the D.C. press corps. "Helen Thomas made it possible for all of us who followed," NBC's Andrea Mitchell wrote on Twitter. Obviously, it's an exaggeration to suggest that women wouldn't have made so many worthwhile gains in journalism were it not for Thomas. But she was the first female member of a lot of clubs, and that counts for something.
So it was no surprise that the encomiums poured forth in response to the news. From President Obama, the Gridiron Club, the White House Correspondents Association, Hamas.
Hamas was less interested in Thomas' role as a path-breaking feminist icon than the fact that, at a 2010 White House Jewish heritage event, she growled into a camera that the Jews should "get the hell out" of Israel (or "Palestine" in her telling) and go back to Poland, Germany and America. That statement, cheered by Hezbollah at the time, was too much for Hearst, which quickly ushered her off to retirement, where she cultivated her status as a truth-teller martyred by the Zionists who control everything in America.
In most obituaries this incident comes out of the blue, often chalked up to the fact her parents were Lebanese immigrants (an odd slap at Lebanese-Americans). There's no mention that her hatred of Israel -- and supporters of Israel -- was a constant for most of her career.
Indeed, if you go back and look at many of her famously tough questions of U.S. presidents and press secretaries with that in mind, what seems to many as skepticism about U.S. foreign policy is better understood as special pleading for Israel's enemies. "Thank God for Hezbollah," Thomas told a CNN cameraman in 2002, according to the Washington Post. Israel, she added, was responsible for "99 percent of all this terrorism." Her first question of President Obama referred to members of al Qaeda and the Taliban as "so-called terrorists."