FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Betrayal of Helen Thomas

by BARBARA LUBIN and DANNY MULLER

When the news spread through Washington this weekend that the unwavering, pioneering journalist Helen Thomas had died, there must have been a collective sigh of relief throughout the halls of Washington.

News articles and obituaries are obligatorily mentioning her retirement over political remarks about Palestine and Israel.  They all will and should celebrate her trail -blazing career as a journalist and author.   And now that she has died, it has become politically correct to re-embrace her, because now Helen is safe.  She will not be asking the uncomfortable questions anymore, questions that made lying politicians squirm, as they stared dumbfounded back at her, always surprised at freedom of the press in action, at a woman who did not know her place.

But in Helen’s final years, there was little celebration of her career and her courage, as former friends, coworkers and many in Washington jumped on the bandwagon resolutely condemning her for comments made in a hit piece that took brief comments out of context.  Perhaps most appallingly, President Obama took time from spying on one half of the world and bombing the other half to state that her resignation was “the right decision.”

In a world where politicians like George Bush, Dick Cheney and Rahm Emmanuel are celebrated for their reputations for expletive laden tirades, can we really pretend that Helen’s comments were so shocking or offensive that they were worthy of forced retirement?  In a world where we hear the daily drivel from presidents promoting wars of madness with lies and straight faces, how did we let such vitriol rain down on her?

Helen Thomas did more to challenge the war from the back row of the White House press corps (where she was relegated for three years after criticizing George Bush in 2003) than any embedded journalist did on the front lines who lay in bed with the military in Iraq.  She stood for a journalistic integrity that was not welcome in an all- encompassing corporate- media-congressional complex.    In the beginning of her career, she was fired for going on strike with her colleagues at the Washington Daily News.  She faced decades of abuse because she was opinionated, she would not back down, and she was a woman.  In later years, it was shocking to see how George Bush and Barrack Obama addressed her, ageism in presidential clothing, as if she was a child to be tolerated but dismissed and chuckled at, a minor nuisance who did not know her place, a relic that they just needed to pander to for a minute, so they could get back to the Big Lie.

Helen Thomas was ambushed for being Anti Zionist, and as Ralph Nader wrote, “the evisceration was launched by two pro-Israeli war hawks, Ari Fleischer and Lanny Davis. Fleischer was George W. Bush’s press secretary who bridled under Helen Thomas’ questioning regarding the horrors of the Bush-Cheney war crimes and illegal torture. His job was not to answer this uppity woman but to deflect, avoid and cover up for his bosses. Davis was the designated defender whenever Clinton got into hot water. As journalist Paul Jay pointed out, he is now a Washington lobbyist whose clients include the cruel corporate junta that overthrew the elected president of Honduras.”  If one followed her career, especially in the last decade, she had upset the status quo repeatedly by asking about the deaths of civilians in America’s wars, the unholy alliance with Israel, their unspoken of nuclear arsenal, and the way we hide the face of war.  Powerful people wanted her silenced and used a 30 second video snippet to try and erase 7 decades of integrity and public service.

helenthomas

Helen Thomas by Robert Shetterly.

So you can imagine how honored we were when in the fall of 2010, we were invited to meet at length with Helen.  Mutual friends had put us in touch and she welcomed us to join her at her home.  She graciously received us, and spoke for hours about a dizzying array of topics.  Her mind was incredibly sharp, having absorbed a number of daily papers that day, and numerous books on current events were neatly stacked, bookmarked and referenced throughout our conversation.  Incredibly open to any question, ( Who was the best president? “It would have been Lyndon Johnson, if it wasn’t for the Vietnam War.  His War on Poverty was an incredible achievement.  But the Vietnam war haunted him.”)  Helen was the consummate journalist even in her own living room, peppering us both with questions, unflinchingly taking it all in.  She moved seamlessly from talking about her Detroit childhood to her trip to China on Air Force One with Richard Nixon, always seeing the interconnectedness of the past and how it influences the present.  When asked about our work in the Middle East, we hesitated at first to answer fully about what we witnessed during the ongoing Israeli occupation, and the Iraq wars. She appeared so very concerned about the experiences of children in these places, and was visibly troubled by what she knew.  Helen was so clearly empathetic to the plight of children, those living in refugee camps, those incarcerated, those who are suffering, that it seemed unfair to burden her further with eyewitness accounts after all she had recently been through.  But her curiosity and questions were no match for us, and like always, Helen asked the questions she wanted.

A few nights later, over tea-then apple martinis and a full-course dinner, Helen continued her line of questioning.  She was very interested in the work of the organization we work with, The Middle East Children’s Alliance, and pledged to speak in San Francisco at a benefit for humanitarian aid for children in Palestine.  Unfortunately, Helen’s physical health soon deteriorated further, preventing her from making the 3000-mile flight.  But the time we spent with Helen Thomas stayed with us, and we were troubled that she was never able to come speak at an event, because we wanted to see her celebrated by the thousands of people we knew who respected her, loved her and were horrified by how she had been treated and forced into exile; even by some close friends and MECA supporters.

Two years later, immediately after the “Operation Pillar of Defense” the 8 -day bombing of Gaza by Israel where 158 Palestinians were killed, 30 of them children, we crossed the Erez crossing from Israel into Gaza City.  A week after we had arrived, we were out late in the early morning hours conversing with journalists and other internationals.  The topic of the Arab Spring and the role of social media were hot topics of discussion.   A young Palestinian journalist, who had recently completed her studies in London, returned to Gaza months earlier to cover human rights issues for an online news website written in English, and stated to us that she wanted to be the next Helen Thomas.

Another journalist responded to her by saying, “Oh, you mean because of her comments on Palestine.”

“No, that is not why.  There are two things that will change the world,” she said,  “Media and women: and I am both. “

This is Helen Thomas’ legacy.  This is proof that the uncomfortable questions will continue to be asked.  That is what Helen wanted.   Accountability of the powerful, a fearless press in search of the truth.

That is why we think August 4th should be declared Helen Thomas Day, a birth date she shares with Barack Obama.  But August 4th should be a day we celebrate only Helen Thomas, not Barack Obama, for weak hearted men who launch distant wars should be relegated to the dustbins of history, and fearless women who challenge empire and live a life unintimidated should be honored.

Sign Our Petition to Ask the White House to Declare August 4th  “Helen Thomas Day.”

Barbara Lubin is a lifelong peace, justice and disability rights activist. She is the founder and Executive Director of the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA), a non-profit organization which since 1988, has been working for the rights and the well being of children in the Middle East.

Danny Muller has worked with the Middle East Children’s Alliance since they were jointly breaking the economic sanctions against Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness in the 1990’s.  He has worked with MECA in Iraq & Palestine.  He is a war tax resister and war abolitionist.

They can be reached at meca@mecaforpeace.org

January 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Why is the Israeli Army Finally Worried About Gaza?
Stan Cox
Betting the Earth on a Game of Wrap-Cut-Smash
Rahman Bouzari
How the Mass Media Misread the Iranian Protests
W. T. Whitney
US Capitalism Lets Children and Mothers Die
Marc Norton
Blackwater Founder Erik Prince on “Shithole Countries”
Gregory Barrett
Germany, Israel, Palestine, Neo-Nazis, Refugees, Roger Waters, BDS, and “Antisemitism”: Very Complicated
Jason Holland
Theater Review: McResistance and the Government Shutdown of 2018
Edward Hunt
The U.S. Foreign Policy Elite Still Wants the Middle East for Its Oil and Its Strategic Location
David Macaray
Great News for Organized Labor
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey Vs. Kurds
Kim C. Domenico
Me Too’s Misguided Pursuit of Equality: Drop the Spirit of Vengeance and Defend Dignity Instead
January 23, 2018
Carl Boggs
Doomsday Panic in Hawaii
Mark Ashwill
If I Were US Ambassador to Vietnam…
Jack Rasmus
US Government Shutdown: Democrats Blink…Again
Nick Pemberton
The Inherent Whiteness of “Our Revolution”
Leeann Hall
Trump’s Gift for the Unemployed: Kicking Them Off Health Care
Dean Baker
Lessons in Economics For the NYT’s Bret Stephens: Apple and Donald Trump’s Big Tax Cut
Mitchell Zimmerman
Law, Order and the Dreamers
Ken Hannaford-Ricardi
The Kids the World Forgot
Dave Lindorff
South Korea Slips Off the US Leash
Ali Mohsin
Extrajudicial Murder of Pashtun Exposes State Brutality in Pakistan
Jessicah Pierre
Oprah is No Savior
John Carroll Md
Keeping Haiti in Perspective
Amir Khafagy
Marching Into the Arms of the Democrats
January 22, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
It’s Time to Call Economic Sanctions What They Are: War Crimes
Jim Kavanagh
Behind the Money Curtain: A Left Take on Taxes, Spending and Modern Monetary Theory
Sheldon Richman
Trump Versus the World
Mark Schuller
One Year On, Reflecting and Refining Tactics to Take Our Country Back
Winslow Wheeler
Just What Earmark “Moratorium” are They Talking About?
W. T. Whitney
José Martí, Soul of the Cuban Revolution
Uri Avnery
May Your Home Be Destroyed          
Wim Laven
Year One Report Card: Donald Trump Failing
Jill Richardson
There Are No Shithole Countries
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
Are the Supremes About to Give Trump a Second Term?
Laura Finley
After #MeToo and #TimesUp
Howard Lisnoff
Impressions From the Women’s March
Andy Thayer
HuffPost: “We Really LOVED Your Contributions, Now FUCK OFF!”
Weekend Edition
January 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Dr. King’s Long Assassination
David Roediger
A House is Not a Hole: (Not) Caring about What Trump Says
George Burchett
How the CIA Tried to Bribe Wilfred Burchett
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Plan B for Syria: Occupation and Intimidation
Michael Hudson – Charles Goodhart
Could/Should Jubilee Debt Cancellations be Reintroduced Today?
Marshall Auerback – Franklin C. Spinney
Boss Tweet’s Generals Already Run the Show
Andrew Levine
Remember, Democrats are Awful Too
James Bovard
Why Ruby Ridge Still Matters
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail