Evening News Shows Enthuse Over Helen Thomas, a 'Bona Fide Icon' and a 'Trailblazer'
The three evening news shows on Monday treated the announcement of Helen Thomas' retirement as an occasion to gush over the "bona fide icon" and "trailblazer." At the same time, CBS's Evening News, NBC's Nightly News and ABC's World News didn't find much time for outrage over Thomas' attacks on Jews and Israel.
Instead, NBC's Andrea Mitchell played a clip of Thomas ranting to President Bush in a White House Press briefing: "Are you going to get out of Afghanistan? Why are we continuing to kill and die there?" According to Mitchell, this was Thomas simply being "outspoken."
On CBS, correspondent Sharyl Attkisson labeled these sort of comments "confrontational." It was Thomas' suggestion, caught on video, that Jews should "go home" to Poland and "get the hell out of Palestine" that "many" thought "crossed the line from feisty to offensive." She then played a clip of the remarks.
ABC's Dan Harris was the most effusive, lauding, " She is a bona fide icon and she is also nearly 90-years-old." [Audio available here.]
Harris also provided spin for Thomas, citing her age and celebrity: "Some have argued that Thomas deserves a break, given her status as a journalistic giant and a trailblazer for women, and given her age." He added, "After all, many of us have elderly relatives who have lost their verbal filter."
World News host Diane Sawyer contributed to this tone, teasing the segment by cryptically asserting, "Helen Thomas, dean of White House correspondents resigns, amid a debate about age and outrage." Maybe ABC saw the debate as one over "age and outrage," but many Americans felt it concerned anti-Semitic comments.
Mitchell used similar language for her report: "Now an occasional columnist, Thomas was often criticized but still venerated as a trailblazer, the first woman to lead the White House press corps." Speaking of the White House Correspondents Association, She hopefully concluded, "Her colleagues added that they are saddened by Thomas' recent comments, but wish her the best."
Evening News anchor Katie Couric hyped that Thomas had "blazed the trail for women in journalism."
All three programs played the video that brought the longtime journalist's career to the end. But, none featured clips from outraged groups. Where were the interviews with the Anti-Defamation League or other Jewish groups?
Finally, none of the shows highlighted the extreme left-wing bias of Thomas, something that the reporter herself admitted in 2006: "I’m a liberal, I was born a liberal, and I will be a liberal ‘til the day I die." For a compilation of Thomas' most outragous comments, go here.
A transcript of the June 7 Nightly News segment and a partial transcript of the World News piece follow:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: In Washington today, a sudden end to one of the longest careers in the history of the White House press corps and in the modern era of journalism. Helen Thomas, who will turn 90 this summer, started covering JFK 50 years ago. But something she said 11 days ago about Jews and Israel sparked a storm that led to her departure. The story tonight from NBC's Andrea Mitchell.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Helen Thomas has been giving presidents a hard time for half a century.
BARACK OBAMA: All right. Helen, this is my inaugural moment here. I'm really excited.
MITCHELL: Originally entitled to a front row seat as a legendary wire service reporter-
RICHARD NIXON: Miss Thomas has the first question tonight.
MITCHELL: -President Obama is only the last of 10 presidents to get the full Thomas treatment.
THOMAS: Are you going to get out of Afghanistan? Why are we continuing to kill and die there? What is the real excuse? And don't give us this Bushism.
MITCHELL: Always outspoken about the Middle East.
THOMAS: Your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis.
MITCHELL: This time she went too far when a blogger at a Jewish heritage event asked her about Israel.
THOMAS: Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.
OFF CAMERA VOICE: : Ooh. Any better comments than that?
THOMAS: Remember, these people are occupied. And it's their land, not German, it's not Poland.
OFF CAMERA VOICE: So where should they go? What should they do?
THOMAS: They go home.
OFF CAMERA VOICE: Where's their home?
THOMAS: Poland, Germany.
OFF CAMERA VOICE: So the Jews should--say Jews go back to Poland and Germany?
THOMAS: And America and everywhere else.
MITCHELL: A firestorm erupted after the blogger, Rabbilive.com, posted this video on YouTube. Today the White House condemned her comments.
ROBERT GIBBS: Those remarks were offensive and reprehensible.
MITCHELL: Now an occasional columnist, Thomas was often criticized but still venerated as a trailblazer, the first woman to lead the White House press corps. President Obama feted her on her 89th birthday last August. Now Thomas has apologized on her Web site, saying she deeply regrets the comments. In a statement tonight, the White House Correspondents Association said Helen Thomas has had a long and distinguished career that is unrivaled, along the way shattering many glass ceilings. Her colleagues added that they are saddened by Thomas' recent comments, but wish her the best. Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.
SAWYER: Retiring. Helen Thomas, dean of White House correspondents resigns, amid a debate about age and outrage.
DIANE SAWYER: And today, the long career of White House reporter Helen Thomas, a familiar face, came to an abrupt end amid criticism and controversy. What happened to the 89-year-old fixture in the front row of the briefings? Here’s Dan Harris.
DAN HARRIS, ABC correspondent: Helen Thomas has covered every president since Kennedy, and was the only reporter ever to have an assigned seat in the White House briefing room. She is a bona fide icon and she is also nearly 90-years-old. Today her seat sat empty after a controversy over these recent comments she made about Israel.
HELEN THOMAS, former "Hearst" columnist: Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So where should they go?
THOMAS: They should go home.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where`s the home?
THOMAS: Poland. Germany.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You told the Jews -- do you think...
HARRIS: Thomas, whose parents were Lebanese immigrants, was harshly criticized. She apologized but the criticism did not relent, and so today her employer, "Hearst," announced her resignation. Some have argued that Thomas deserves a break, given her status as a journalistic giant and a trailblazer for women, and given her age. After all, many of us have elderly relatives who have lost their verbal filter.