MSNBC Anchors in 'Anguish' Over Helen Thomas Retirement

MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Chuck Todd, and Savannah Guthrie on Tuesday’s “The Daily Rundown” were in “anguish” over the forced retirement of Helen Thomas, but showed little sympathy for the Israelis that the Hearst columnist so odiously disrespected.

“I think a lot of people feel some anguish about this because the comments were beyond the pale,” lamented Guthrie. “And yet it tarnishes a career that otherwise people would be celebrating because she was indeed a trailblazer.”

Glossing over the longtime reporter’s comments that Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back to Germany or Poland, Mitchell lauded Thomas’s career as “storied” and proceeded to hearken back to a time when Washington was an “all-male town” and Thomas was blazing the trail for women.

“When I first arrived here, after dinner, at political dinners, women went to one room, men went to another to smoke cigars and have brandy,” recalled Mitchell. “This was a very traditional place–not like New York or other East Coast cities.”

In an attempt to make excuses for Thomas while appearing to condemn her remarks, contradictions ran rampant. First up, Mitchell:

And just to put it in context, there’s no way to explain, excuse what she said because she’s apologized for it and we all know having been in that briefing room that Helen has very passionate views on this subject and has said things that are not what you would expect from a reporter. But she hasn’t been a reporter for 10 years; she has been a columnist.

Dismissing the offensive comments as “passionate views,” Mitchell made absolutely no excuses for Thomas except to make the distinction that columnists are entitled to a measure of leeway not afforded to reporters.

Then Guthrie–referring to Thomas’s role as a “trailblazer”–presented another puzzling contradiction: “It doesn’t mitigate what she said, but she’s also 89-years-old.” To put it another way, her comments are inexplicable, but give her a break because she’s old and cranky.

“And by the way, she’s not the only person in that press briefing room who asks offensive questions,” reminded Guthrie. Yes, Thomas is not the only cantankerous liberal journalist to use her platform in the White House briefing room to advance her radical agenda. But that doesn’t excuse Thomas for insulting a democratic nation besieged by extremist groups who do not recognize its right to exist. Indeed, Thomas's blanket "get the hell out" statement sounds a lot like the viewpoint of some of those groups which believe that Israel's very existence is illegitimate.

As MRC Research Director Rich Noyes has chronicled, over the course of her “storied” career, Helen Thomas has consistently railed against conservatives with inflammatory rhetoric even before she became a columnist, demonstrating to an entire generation of future liberal journalists how to pummel conservatives. A trailblazer indeed.

A full transcript of the segment can be found below:

CHUCK TODD: Well the front row in the White House briefing room is not going to be the same. Veteran correspondent Helen Thomas is calling it quits in the wake of an uproar over her comments that Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine.”

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: And she also said they should go back to Germany and Poland and the US, among other places. This ends a career that spanned more than six decades and 10 presidents. With us now, NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell with the story.

I think a lot of people feel some anguish about this because the comments were beyond the pale, and yet it tarnishes a career that otherwise people would be celebrating because she was indeed a trailblazer.

ANDREA MITCHELL: A storied career. And just to put it in context, there’s no way to explain, excuse what she said because she’s apologized for it and we all know having been in that briefing room that Helen has very passionate views on this subject and has said things that are not what you would expect from a reporter. But she hasn’t been a reporter for 10 years; she has been a columnist. You know this better than I being there everyday though. But I have to take us back just to give you the context of Helen Thomas. We can talk about trailblazers, I can’t describe to you what it was like for women in this profession. Helen was the first–

TODD: Just 30 years ago, not 50 years ago when she started, just 30 years ago, correct?

MITCHELL: She became the first woman president of the Gridiron club. There were no women in the Gridiron club. I can remember the day when, in the 70's, Kay Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post, and her top editorial writer, Meg Greenfield, drove around the hotel where the Gridiron was taking place, just to watch the women protesting out front. Katharine Graham could not be invited. This was an all-male town. When I first arrived here, after dinner, at political dinners, women went to one room, men went to another to smoke cigars and have brandy. This was a very traditional place–not like New York or other East Coast cities. Helen went through a lot, and so some understanding of context, without explaining or understanding or apologizing–

GUTHRIE: It doesn’t mitigate what she said, but she’s also 89-years-old.

TODD: And there is a question as to whether a couple of things that are going to get sparked by this debate. Number one, you know, was “Hearst” aware–if one of her bosses had been in that briefing room for the last two years–none of this would have come as a surprise to them. She’s been unfiltered for quite some time.

MITCHELL: Those briefings are carried live.

TODD: There was no excuse. Two, the question is, who belongs in the White House press corp at this point? And the thing is, as much as everybody’s going to say, “well you can’t have columnists.” Well what’s the line these days? There’s activist journalists–what’s the difference between an activist journalist who’s got an agenda versus a reporter.

GUTHRIE: And by the way, she’s not the only person in that press briefing room who asks offensive questions.

MITCHELL: Ronald Reagan used to have his aides–Mike Deaver used to tell him that if you’re in trouble at a press conference, call on one of the “crazies,” one of the activist journalists.

TODD: Joe Lockhart admitted to us that one of the people who’s typically hostile to Democrats would be used as a rescue valve for him.

MITCHELL: Because it would make the president look more sympathetic and change the subject.

GUTHRIE: Andrea Mitchell, great perspective, thank you for coming on today, we appreciate it.
--Alex Fitzsimmons is a News Analysis intern at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.