The venomous anti-Israel outburst that spelled the end of veteran journalist Helen Thomas’ 60-year career as a White House correspondent has rightfully angered Jews across the political spectrum.
But there is also something sad about this week’s events. Thomas had a major impact in breaking the glass ceiling that kept women out of major-league journalism, and she pioneered an aggressive mode of White House reporting that ended an old-boys relationship between presidents and the White House press corps that often came at the expense of the public’s right to know.
But in the end, she let her visceral bias against Israel bury her journalistic integrity and in doing so reinforced the notion of a widespread bias against the Jewish state in the news business.
Sometimes that notion reflects ideology more than journalistic reality; some Jews claim bias simply because reporting does not conform to their particular views of Israeli politics.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t media bias, and sadly Thomas’ outburst that Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine” and presumably go back to Germany and Poland seems irrefutable proof.
She is infamous for dogging presidents on the issue of Israel — and too often, her questions were more like tirades, not a quest for truth.
Her recent comments in a video shot by Rabbi David Nesenoff at the White House reception marking Jewish Heritage Month were so deeply offensive, not because they criticized Israeli policy but because they denied Israel’s very right to exist. Her demand that Jews “go home” to places like Germany and Poland denied any Jewish connection to the land of Israel and blithely ignored the realities of the Holocaust.
The revelatory outburst also raises a disturbing question: why were Thomas’ bosses so reluctant, for so very long, to rein in a journalist with such an overwhelming obsession about Israel?
No one can deny the fact that Thomas became an icon in the world of journalism.
Sadly, it will be her visceral bias against Israel, not her undeniable accomplishments, that will frame her legacy for many inside and outside the Jewish community.
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