Helen Thomas: she didn’t know when to quit

I was never thrilled about political reporting.
I did it when I had to and I covered politics to the best of my ability. But my heart wasn’t in it.
Perhaps it’s because I have a former lawyer for a father who could turn any discussion into a unwinnable debate. Maybe it’s because I have a bunch of brilliantly braniac siblings who argue with far more knowledge and logic than I ever care to have.
I argue from my gut.
It’s just who I am.
But still, the whole Helen Thomas thing makes me sad.
I respected her.
Newsrooms are sexist. I hated that about my former career. Most of my male editors and colleagues were more than fair and, generally. open-minded. But far too many were not. I could tell those stories here, but I will not. I will not because of female reporters like Helen Thomas, women who paved the way and gave me the courage to fight back.
I will not because of the male colleagues and editors (my husband included) who also respected female journalists like Helen Thomas (and me) and who listened and took action when I needed their help. (Rich Sullivan, I have to mention you here. You were my rock.).
I will not tell those stories out of fairness for those who are trying to create change.
Rehashing old hurts would only result in backward steps and threaten the accomplishments of women like Helen Thomas.
But, for all her accomplishments, Helen Thomas did not know when to quit.
Because of that, she stepped backward for all of us.
And she lost my respect.
As we age, most of us tend to become less tolerant of incompetence, of the views of others and of inefficiency. We become less able and less willing to exercise caution in our expression and, in journalism, that’s when it is time to quit.
Helen Thomas probably knew that she had reached that point, but she had neglected something vital on the road to that front row seat in the White House press room. She forgot the need for a life outside the newsroom. Outside politics.
So when her time came, long after she lost her patience with the political world around her, she clung to her identity as a journalist. She continued immerse herself in a world that she found less and less tolerable, a world that began having trouble tolerating her.
This became publicly clear in 2006 when she referred to George W. Bush as “the worst president in American history.” She is entitled to her opinion, but any good journalist knows that cautious expression of those thoughts is vital to credibility and so is the ability to rise above our own feelings and beliefs. Even the best columnists, those who are allowed to be subjective, back their opinions with evidence of some sort to lend themselves credibility.
Similar outbursts followed until this final unforgivable declaration, Helen Thomas’ suggestion at a May 27th White House event that Jews should ” … get the hell out of Palestine… Remember, these people are occupied, and it’s their land; it’s not German, it’s not Poland’s.”
Thomas then added that the Jews should go “home” to “Poland, Germany … America and everywhere else.”
She later issued an apology, but it was too late.
Helen Thomas resigned from her job with Hearst Newspapers at 89 years old on June 7 after most every other major organization she was affiliated with had already denied her and dropped her. Her resignation should have been a glorious moment, a celebration, a time to relive her accomplishments.
A toast to an icon.
Instead, it was a moment of shame.
It was shameful, not only because of her remarks, but because of it’s broader implications for women. Her drive to prove herself as a capable woman in a man’s world led to obsession, obsession with a career that has a natural ending long before life ends.
It left her with a singular passion.
And with nothing else beyond the end of that career.
It left her unable to quit.
It shouldn’t be that way.
Helen Thomas is free to believe what she chooses about Palestine and the Jews. Like it or not, we Americans can’t deny her the right to an opinion and as a retiree, she could have gotten away with it. Sure, plenty of folks would have been critical, but her words would not have carried as much weight.
But on May 27, she was a journalist.
I hope we can all put this into perspective.
I hope we can understand that this Helen Thomas is not the same Helen Thomas who made history as a White House institution.
I hope I can.
Then, maybe, I can salvage at least a little of that respect.