Helen Thomas retires amid controversy

June 7, 2010 1:38:23 PM PDT
Reasonable people can disagree about politics, although we're so fractured these days, sometimes it might be hard to tell.

But when it comes to how to solve problems, the intellectually honest approach is filled with differences of opinions and perspectives.

The Middle East is one of those springboard issues that sparks a disproportionate amount of emotion. Much of the debate in the Israel-Palestinian conflict revolves around who gets what land, and how to create a Palestinian state that can live side by side in peace with Israel.

There've been many words written in this space on the subject - and it always generates emotional, sometimes heated, response.

Palestinians have called me a Zionist; Israelis have called me pro-Palestinian. I've always taken the criticism from both sides to mean I'm doing my job as a journalist.

All of which is prelude to the rather sad but predictable end to the White House reporting career of Helen Thomas, who, until today, was the dean of the correspondents in the briefing room.

Thomas, who will be 90 in August, had an illustrious and long tenure, giving Presidents of both parties - 10 of them - the what-for. But a video interview she gave a Rabbi outside the White House at a Jewish Heritage event last month did her in.

She said Israeli Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine."

She wasn't talking about Israeli troops getting out of Gaza, or about them lifting their blockage of Gaza, or about letting Palestinians have complete control over the West Bank. No, Ms. Thomas instead was saying that Jews in Israel should leave and go back home - to Poland or Germany.

Unfortunate is not the right word. It's beyond that. You can criticize Israel for so many things - but to suggest that Jews should leave there, and go back to where they were exterminated by the Nazis not-that-many-years-ago, is reprehensible.

The minute it became public, the end of her tenure became a fait accompli. It was a matter of when, not if.

And the when part of that happened quickly, today.

Did she feel like this all these years? Was it just the meandering thoughts of someone who wasn't thinking? Hard to say. Lots of people tell so-called off-color or politically incorrect jokes in private that they wouldn't want to say in public. I get it. But this wasn't off-color. This was out-of-the-park wrong. Again, the question: Is this how she really feels? That Jews should go back to the countries where they were exterminated? That's far afield from criticizing Israel, or believing that Palestinians need a homeland too.

It's an inconvenient truth that many good careers have been ruined by one public mistake. Thomas, forced to retire today after shattering the glass ceiling for female reporters at the White House, now joins the list.

We'll have any fallout, tonight at 11.

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Also at 11, we're following the latest from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to the war in Afghanistan, which today became the longest war in U.S. history - 104 months, compared to 103 months in Vietnam. Ten more U.S. and NATO soldiers were killed today.

And our Jeff Pegues, using some of the moves that made him a college football star, tonight literally runs after a man suspected of ripping off high school students in an alleged raffle drawing rip-off. It's a story we first reported last month - high schoolers lured into the raffle-selling business by a smooth-talking guy who, cops say, simply took the money they raised and left.

Tonight at 11, Jeff tracks him down.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER

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