By John Fund
For decades, White House correspondents have feted and humored Helen Thomas — a former UPI reporter now turned Hearst columnist — by awarding her a privileged front-row seat during presidential news conferences and letting her bilious left-wing questioning go unchallenged. President Obama even showed up for her last birthday party and had his picture taken with Ms. Thomas and a huge birthday cake. But the time for smiles has passed. Here’s hoping that, with her latest outburst, the White House press corps summons the courage to push the 89-year-old into the background.
Ms. Thomas created an outrage last month when she said in a video filmed at the White House on May 27 that Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine. . . . It’s not Germany and it’s not Poland.” When asked where Israelis should go, she said, “Go home! . . . Poland, Germany . . . and America, and everywhere else.”
After a storm of protest, she has posted an apology on her website but has not appeared in public to answer questions or issue further comment.
The criticism isn’t dying down. Lanny Davis, a White House spokesman under President Clinton, notes that her tirade replicates “an ancient and well-known anti-Semitic stereotype of the Alien Jew not belonging in the ‘land of Israel’ — one that began 2,600 years with the first tragic and violent diaspora of the Jews at the hands of the Romans.” He pointedly asks what the White House Correspondents Association would do if Ms. Thomas had urged African-Americans to return to Africa or Native Americans to return to Siberia. Mr. Davis says he has no doubt that the association will take action or make some kind of statement.
Others have decided that Ms. Thomas’s latest incendiary comments have crossed a line. Her own speakers’ bureau, Nine Speakers Inc., has dropped her as a client. She was set to be the graduation speaker at Walt Whitman High School in suburban Washington, D.C. later this month. That invitation has now been rescinded. Even her co-author has ditched her. Last year, Craig Crawford penned “Listen Up, Mr. President: Everything You Always Wanted Your President to Know and Do” with Helen Thomas. But don’t look for a follow-up collaboration between the two. Mr. Crawford issued a statement saying he shares the disappointment with “Helen Thomas’ lamentable remarks about Israel, and will no longer be working with Helen on our book projects.”
Some 60 years ago, Ms. Thomas was a trailblazing female reporter when few women worked in the profession. It’s admirable that she still wants to be productive at her age. But the honored seat in the front row of presidential news conferences should go vacant. After years of Ms. Thomas disrupting White House events with her eccentric comments, it’s time the White House Correspondents Association made a change. She has dishonored it too long and too often.
John Fund is a columnist with the Wall Street Journal