Helen Thomas: A Pioneer in Free Press

June 11, 2010

Thomas Jefferson so vividly addresses the importance of a free press in the following quote by saying, "Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it." Helen Thomas has been a lifelong illustration of what is great about our country, which is that our leaders can be held accountable by a free and independent press. Her recent gaffe, for which she apologized, should not undermine the decades of work in upholding her duty as a journalist. The following is a piece written by former Congressman Paul Findley on her legacy:

It is a sad finale to an unprecedented career in aggressive, constructive journalism.  In Helen Thomas's departure from the White House newsroom, America is the loser. The Washington press corps contains few with Thomas' talent in challenging political power close-up. The fiasco started when Thomas made a burst of passion at a White House briefing in late May.

After declaring that Jews should get the hell out of Palestine, a reporter asked where they should go, Thomas said they should go home to Poland and Germany, America and everywhere else. Her intent was unmistakable:  Israelis are unlawfully residing in Occupied Palestine and should leave.  She made no reference to Jews in pre-1967 Israel, where all Jews can lawfully reside.

Out-of-context reports on her comments stirred angry controversy.  Time's Joe Klein and other commentators failed to report the words America and everywhere else. This left Thomas' quoted words suggesting only Poland and German, countries long identified with extermination camps for Jews in World War II, as if they were the only destinations for those Thomas would expel.  It was only a short misstep to inflaming linkage with the Nazi Holocaust.  Thomas meant nothing of the kind. Her intent was unmistakable:  Jews are unlawfully residing in Occupied Palestine, which many Israelis possessively refer to as Judea and Samaria.

The warped reports led Diane Nine, Thomas longtime literary agent and friend, to cut ties.  She was uninvited after agreeing to be commencement speaker at a Washington, D.C. high school and falsely smeared as a bigot and anti-Semite by leaders of Jewish organizations.  Klein wanted her moved from her traditional front row seat to the back at future White House news briefings.  Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who served President George W. Bush, told reporters she should be fired by employer Hearst Newspapers or at least lose her White House credentials.

Attempts to link Thomas outburst to Nazi crematories are contemptible.  In denouncing Thomas, Klein and others should be ashamed of themselves.  If they had included, America and everywhere else, as destinations Thomas actually stated, the attempted linkage to past Holocaust crematories would be blurred if not lost.

True to her reputation, Thomas spoke up for human rights, the fundamental property rights of Palestinians that are violated at an ever-rising pace in Occupied Palestine by the government of Israel, with no serious opposition from the United States, Israel's main benefactor.

Thanks to an intimidated U.S. media, most Americans are unaware of the plight of Palestinians.  Almost all Israelis who live in Occupied Palestine are euphemistically called settlers by U.S. media, not in their accurate identification as unlawful occupiers.   By residing in the West Bank and imposing a siege on Gaza, they violate international law, the Geneva Accords, and clear stipulations of the UN Charter.

This dark, undeserved cloud over the reputation of an unrelenting grand champion of human rights will have a silver lining if it awakens the American people to their own quiet but crucial complicity in Israel's sustained violation of Palestinian rights.

I offer unique credentials in defending Thomas.  Although a lifelong admirer, I first met her in October 2009 at a dinner in Washington.  When I greeted her, she addressed me as They Dare to Speak Out Findley, lengthening my name to include the title of my bestseller book published in 1985.  At my invitation she spoke this past April to a capacity, enthusiastic crowd at Illinois College, Jacksonville, Illinois.  While hosting her at dinner the previous evening, I found her a delightful, warm, compassionate human being dedicated to equal justice for all.


Guest Contributor: Paul Findley

Paul Findley resides in Jacksonville, Illinois.  He served 22 as a U.S. representative from Illinois.  He is the author of a highly praised biography, A. Lincoln: The Crucible of Congress, and four books on the Arab-Israeli conflict, the latest being a memoir tentatively titled, Taking the High Road: Confronting Bias, Bigotry, War.  It is scheduled for publication next spring by Lawrence Hill Books.

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