ESSAY- Free speech: Helen Thomas learns it's just a myth

This is why a lot of people think Jews control the media.

Not me. I've worked in the media most of my life. So I know that the media is controlled by morons. Still, what happened to Helen Thomas will feed the rants of wild-eyed conspiracy theorists.

On June 7th, the long professional life of Helen Thomas came to an end. The acid-tongued "dean" of the White House press corps since the Kennedy Administration got fired by her newspaper syndicate, dumped by her speakers' bureau, and disinvited by a Bethesda high school that had asked her to address its commencement ceremonies. The White House Correspondents Association condemned her. President Obama took time out from not doing anything about unemployment or the Gulf oil spill to weigh in.

Chastened, reviled, and subjected to the kind of national opprobrium normally reserved for international terrorists and blind baseball umpires, Thomas apologized and announced her retirement.

All in one day.

So what did Thomas do to merit such derision? No, it wasn't that journalistic career killer, plagiarism.

Actually, in America today, stealing people's words and ideas and pretending they're yours is A-okay. Mike Barnicle, fired by the Boston Globe for ripping off a column from a George Carlin book in 1998, landed on his feet at the New York Daily News and now works for the Boston Herald. And he's on MSNBC. Monica Crowley, who plagiarized in the Wall Street Journal in 1999, is now at Fox News and the Washington Times. (Jayson Blair has yet to reappear in print, but that's different. He's black.)

No, Helen Thomas didn't participate in the attempt to throw a presidential election. Unlike George Will.

The right-wing columnist may or may not have stolen President Jimmy Carter's 1980 debate briefing book and handed it over to the Reagan camp, as Carter has claimed. But Will did admit in a 2005 column that he had seen the purloined document at Reagan economic advisor David Stockman's house during the campaign. Will had a legal obligation to describe what he had seen to the police, and an ethical duty to his readers to report a blockbuster story to his readers. He did neither. Yet Will still works for Newsweek and the Washington Post, publications whose readers must not care about the truth.

No, Thomas didn't say anything racist. But racism doesn't get you fired from journalism. Just ask Pat Buchanan, another MSNBC regular.

Here's what killed Thomas' illustrious career: "Tell them [Israelis] to get the hell out of Palestine," she told a rabbi in a spontaneous video interview. "Remember, these people [Palestinians] are occupied, and it's their land; it's not German, it's not Poland's." Asked where Jewish Israelis should go, she replied, "They should go home" to "Poland, Germany... America and everywhere else."

No doubt, Thomas' comments were simplistic. Three generations of Jews have made their homes in Israel. Asking them to back up and "return" to places where they've never visited– much less lived– would be inhumane, not to mention impractical. Of course, this is no different from current U.S. immigration policy, which calls for the arrest and deportation of undocumented people whose parents brought them here as small children.

Her words also demonstrate historical ignorance. Surely Thomas, who is 89, ought to know that most Israeli Jews were born there. As for the rest, many came from the former Soviet Union, not Poland or Germany (which murdered most of their Jews during, and even after, the Holocaust).

But are these remarks so beyond the pale that their utterance ought to mean the end of your professional life?

Ari Fleischer, who ought to be in prison for defending torture and concentration camps as press secretary for George W. Bush, called Thomas a fan of "religious cleansing." Equating opposition to Israel with anti-Semitism, ex-Clinton spokesman Lanny Davis called Thomas "an anti-Semitic bigot."

"If she had asked all blacks to go back to Africa," Davis asked, "what would White House Correspondents Association position be as to whether she deserved White House press room credentials– much less a privileged honorary seat?"

Davis is entitled to his opinion. But so is Helen Thomas. Not that you'd be able to tell by reading the avalanche of self-righteous yowling by politicians and editorialists.

Thomas isn't unusual. Like it or not, supporters of the State of Israel should understand that Israel's creation was and remains highly controversial– and not just among anti-Semites.

The postwar decision to establish a Jewish homeland by seizing land from Arabs who had nothing to do with the Holocaust– instead of, say, Germany– continues to bewilder. The fact that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are living in refugee camps, where old men and women still wave the deeds and keys to their old homes when they see a reporter, attests to the freshness of the wound. Feeling sorry for them and taking the position that they have a right to be compensated doesn't make you a Jew-hater.

Moreover, the might-makes-right tactics of Israeli political leaders doesn't make them any friends in the world. Acting above the law, they ignore resolutions issued by the same U.N. that made their country possible. Dissembling about their own "secret" (and illegal) nuclear weapons, they bomb an Iraqi nuke plant and threaten to do the same to Iran. Mossad operatives travel to Dubai to assassinate political opponents.

Israel's policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians turn off a lot of people who don't have a bigoted bone in their body.

Settlements in the occupied territories, apartheid-like economic planning, bulldozing the homes of the relatives of accused Palestinian terrorists, the Berlin Wall-esque "security fence," and now the outrageous blockade of Gaza have angered millions of Americans. What makes these acts even more appalling is that Israel, as the number-one beneficiary of U.S. foreign aid, is America's de facto representative in the Middle East.

Lanny Davis' attempt to draw an analogy between Israelis and African-Americans is historical nonsense. Blacks were brought to the U.S. forcibly as slaves. Israel is occupying Palestine, and not just in Gaza and the West Bank. Eventually, the world– even Muslim countries– will come to accept the existence of the State of Israel as a fait accompli. But that will require the passage of time, as well as Israeli politicians who work harder to accommodate themselves to the Arabs inside and outside their borders.

So is Helen Thomas an anti-Semite? I don't know. I do know that her comments were not inherently anti-Semitic. The bigger question is: What if she were? Should she have been fired?

Of course not. Free speech must be defended no matter what– even that of cranky anti-Semitic columnists (if that's what Thomas is/was). Unless we are truly free to say what we think– without fear of reprisal– free speech is not a right. It is merely a permission.

Besides, if every American columnist or politician lost his job over bigotry, what would that mean for all those "family values conservatives" who bash gays, not to mention the nativists who attack Latino immigrants and Muslims? We owe Helen Thomas an apology.


Ted Rall's most recent book is "Wake Up, You're Liberal! How We Can Take America Back from the Right" (Soft Skull Press).



Well, Shootfire! The things I'm allowed to say in this comment aren't free-speech either, then is it! That's just Goose-steppingly creepy, in my book.
Ms. Thomas is surely free to her opinions, anti-Semitic or not. But to represent an internationally distributed publication whose tenants strive to be politically neutral (or should so strive) so as to provide unbiased journalism that a free people can rely on as truth, and also make such comment, cannot be reconciled. At the very least, Ms. Thomas must strive to put her personal feelings aside in her journalism - which she has never done! We owe Helen Thomas no apology, nor should overly zealous liberals like Mr. Rall whine because a Stalwart in his camp is properly fallen by their own foolishness. Wake up, Teddy.

Interesting. I cannot use the words "H*ll" "st**id" (and so substituted "Shootfire" and "creepy") but can seek to get around the words and still express the same sentiment. It seems that such Political Correctness is at the heart of Ms. Thomas' debacle. One can say what one wishes as long as one says not a "blacklisted word." Bizarre and frightening. The Hook plays the same game that ended her career.

You are missing the whole point. She is absolutely free to spew her anti-semitic and ignorant opinions if she likes. However, her company is also free to choose to sever ties with her over what she says.

(Jayson Blair has yet to reappear in print, but that's different. He's black.)
His journalistic "crimes" were much more widespread. He had literally made up dozens of stories out of thin air and had been doing similar things for years. He wasn't someone who got caught plagiarizing parts of one story. And if you want to bring in race to a story that has nothing to do with it, why not mention that many peers felt he did not deserve his position and got it due to his race.

Anybody here crying "anti-semetic" is brainwashed. The Zionist controlled Western media has made sure to pound it into the public's heads for the past 50+ years that any sort of talk against Israel, or a person who identifies with the Jewish religion, is automatically "anti-semetic." ie, racist. Helen Thomas is not anti-semetic. She was one of the few mainstreamers willing to tell it like it is when it comes to the atrocities being committed by Israel to the Palestinians. The Zionist controlled Western media doesn't show Americans what's really going on over there, all the West gets are lies, whitewashes and filtered "truth." Many Americans unfortunately believe it wholeheartedly, never questioning things, then go around parroting what the "news" told them to believe, then attacking anybody who's actually educatd and dares speak the truth about what Israel is doing.

"Anti-Semetic" is a knee jerk response of the non-thinking and uneducated. It's a built in defense tactic invented by the Zionists - who, often times, aren't even true Semites - to ensure that they can get away with anything, including mass genocide. Anytime somebody begins to question the "Anti-Semite!!!!" card.

I'd be willing to bet that anybody using the knee-jerk "Anti-Semitic" escape clause doesn't even know that there's such a thing as true *Semites*....and then something known as the *Ashkenazis.* Most so-called Jews that you see out there, in particular the ones who have the stereotypical Jewish features and last names, *aren't even Semite.* They are *Ashkenazis,* whose ancestors converted to Judaism as a survival mechanism during invasion, centuries ago. They, or their ancestors, have never even stepped foot in the "Holy Land" and therefore have no more claim to that land than I do. And any criticism against their actions is no more "Anti-Semite" then it would be for me.

And, there is a difference between a true Jew, and a "Zionist."

The Zionists use the holocaust as an excuse to be able to do whatever they want, to whomever they want, and in the process they have become the very thing that they cry victim of. The Zionists slaughtering the Palestinians and imposing genocide against them are no better than the Nazis who did that to the Jews 60 years ago. Zionist Ashke*nazis.* It's in the name itself, in plain site. How many people see it? How many people even *know* the difference between Semites, and then the Ashkenazi imposters?

Jason Blair was not just guilty of plagiarism, he was also guilty of fabrication. He didn't just copy other people's words, he made stuff up.

So the color of his skin is not the only thing different about his case the two that Ted Rall mentions, there is also the difference that he flat out lied in his articles.

I'm sure that Ted Rall, mr. journalistic integrity, will quickly correct his mischaracterization of reality.

Mr. Rall, your article has nothing to do with free speech. Free speech is literally being able to say whatever you want without facing criminal charges. Free speech does not mean that private media companies have to perpetually pay their employees to say whatever they want, no matter how wrong or offensive. DUH. I certainly hope the Hook stops paying writers who couldn't pass 8th grade civics.

Ah, good old Ted Rall, always dependable to defend the indefensible. Helen Thomas wasn't fired, she resigned. So where was the reprisal? Does the WHCA not have the free speech right to rebuke her? Do we as private citizens not have the free speech right to criticize her and call for her resignation/firing?

Free speech for some but not for others is not free speech.

@The Hook: Please stop publishing a hateful, bombastic, and reactionary author like Ted Rall. Thank you.

Gaza "1.5 million people crammed into an area 25 miles long and 6 miles wide without sufficient food, water, and medicine is a breeding ground for terrorist"

Because of a lack of understanding of world affairs, most americans were shocked when young arab men flew airliners into the world trade centers.

I was not.

Would anyone do something so dramatic for no reason at all?

I don't think so.

Gaza "1.5 million people crammed into an area 25 miles long and 6 miles wide without sufficient food, water, and medicine is a breeding ground for terrorists"

Because of a lack of understanding of world affairs, most americans were shocked when young arab men flew airliners into the world trade centers.

I was not

Would anyone do something so dramatic for no reason at all?

I don't think so.

Exactly how many of the hijackers were from the Gaza strip?

Actually, their shortages of food and supplies are highly overstated. Recently a Danish reporter filemd a frest fruit market. They had tons of produce and also frest meat. The market was hardly crowded. They also get more aid per capita than any other place on Earth. This doesn't stop Hamas from hoarding supplies or even selling them for arms.

The whole situation is f'ed up. Our support for Israel shold not be unconditional, as it seems to have been in the past. However, I'm not gonna waste time giving my opinion on it.

However, Miss thomas's comments were ignorant if not offensive. Millions of Jews were killed in Germany and Poland, and many were killed in pogroms in the first years following the war. I doubt she is unaware of these facts. Besides, the UN recognized Israel's right exist many years ago.

I think you missed my point.

"Would anyone do something so dramatic for no reason at all?"

you don't know many people do you?

Anyway, surprise surprise, empty headed socialist liberal defends empty headed socialist liberal against all reason. If a Republican or God forbid libertarian dare spout such an ethnically charged diatribe, I'm sure Ted Rall, communist traitor, would have no problem nailing him or her to the cross. "Be my version of tolerant or be called an oppressor (whatever that means) forever!" - Liberal mantra.

Who really cares what Helen Thomas has ever said- and she certainly has never done anything.

Helen Thomas is now just a myth. This person never contributed anything to any press conference, any conversation or article worth listening to or reading. This person never enticed any President or member of any WH staff to do anything or act differently.

This person was tired of her job and we were certainly tired of her.

Helen Thomas was such an influence in US politics that she will be forgotten by the time I end this tirade.

I guess ted rall thinks we should all do our geanology and get the heck back to where we came from.

The only reason this guy has freedom of speech is because the US protects itself from the likes of Hamas and it sort.

Hamas was elected by the people of Gaza, since when don't we recognize the will of the majority

When the stated goal, the very reason for its existence, of that majority is the destruction of our most important allies.

BTW, since Hamas came to power they have done everything to make sure they will never lose it. Killings, arson, street fights, etc. They will never lose another "free" election again...which I think is to the detriment of both sides.

Explain exactly why Israel is an "important ally." I don't see that. Of what value are they to us? Spare me the WWII stories. That isn't my question.

All one has to do is pay attention to how american imperialism has poisoned the middle east to understand why Hamas does what it does.
They don't have F-16's, Predator drones, unlimited supply chains for well equipped and trained warriors, etc. So their methods are labelled as terrorism.
Sorry, I don't buy the attitude that we are america, we are always right.

"Explain exactly why Israel is an "important ally." I don't see that. Of what value are they to us? Spare me the WWII stories. That isn't my question."

There are several reasons I have heard/read why they are our allies. I don't necessarily know if it is a good thing or not. I am merely making the point that as long as they are an important ally, and you cannot deny that the current (and previous)administration treats them as such, then we would not recognize Hamas or take their side.

"Sorry, I don't buy the attitude that we are america, we are always right"

I never said that you did. Nor do I.

I was making a statement not a reply.

I was making a statement not a reply

I'll give Ted Rall his due, especially since he is willing to take on Mr. Obama about human rights abuses - although with kid gloves as compared to how he took on Mr. Bush about same. Ted is a political partisan, after all - so that takes a lot of the punch out of his words.

The bigger problem is that Ted Rall is AOK with thwarting human rights and even even deforming innocent children so long as he
gets to continue his liberal lifestyle.

Ted Rall fully supports this policy:

"It will be necessary to open special institutions for abortions and doctors must be able to help out there in case there is any question of this being a breach of their professional ethics."

Adolph Hitler

And Ted Rall completely rejects all 4 of these foundational postwar human rights accords written and agreed to by the nations of the world so as to prevent Nazi medcine from ever returning to planet earth: