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To what, then, did she owe her reputation as a paragon of journalism? Her output as a columnist was banal. In a column on Michelle Obama’s antiobesity efforts, Thomas observed: “If a first lady takes an interest in a cause, it will take off in the country. But it won’t wipe out fascination with what she is wearing. That’s life.” Reason’s Peter Suderman quipped that “as insights go, this [is] about as original as you win some, you lose some.”
DID THOMAS ever break or advance an important story? Offer a penetrating analytical insight? Take a risk on behalf of the public’s right to know? If so, nobody remembered. True, she became a journalist at a time when that was arguably an accomplishment for a woman. But being a woman was never an accomplishment for a journalist.
Sally Quinn had this to say in an essay on the Post’s website about why Thomas was “a legend”:
I spent many a night with Helen and her best pal, Fran Lewine-who just happened to be Jewish and who was another female pioneer in journalism-eating pita bread and hummus and stuffed grape leaves and drinking wine. There was always plenty of wine and laughter. Not only was Helen a great journalist but she loved her friends, loved to have a good time.
Helen had a great personality and some of her best friends were Jewish! This may be the first time in history that these two classic excuses for ugliness have been invoked simultaneously.
In fairness to Quinn, she described Thomas’s comments about Israel as “shocking, appalling and indefensible,” though she also employed the old Obama dodge: “The person who called for Israel to get out of Palestine is not the Helen Thomas I knew.”
By contrast, Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift-who has the extraordinary misfortune of having accepted the 2010 Helen Thomas Award from the American News Women’s Club on June 3-did attempt a defense of Thomas’s invidious remarks: “She was talking about the settlers,” Clift insisted, referring to Israelis who live in territory that was occupied by Jordan before 1967. This assertion was laughable. As Nesenoff pointed out in a Washington Post op-ed, Thomas was not telling them to go home to Tel Aviv, Haifa, and western Jerusalem.
Even Clift had to admit that there was little to Thomas’s “pioneering career” other than longevity: “Woody Allen famously said 90 percent of life is just showing up, and Thomas was there for a huge chunk of history.” Then again, so was Rudolf Hess.
As for those awards: Wayne State announced that it would continue to give out the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award, which says a lot about what “diversity” has come to mean in American higher education. Kevin Smith, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, did not return my e-mails or phone messages asking if SPJ planned any changes in its award. My call to the American News Women’s Club was returned by a woman named Julia. She promised to get back to me with an answer, but never did.
So goes the legend of Helen Thomas: the living icon of journalism whose admirers cannot be reached for comment.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?