Four years before a churlish Washington press corps booted her from her coveted front row seat in the White House briefing room, Helen Thomas had pissed them off in a big way. In 2006, she'd partnered with Stephen Colbert for his famous public skewering of the churlish Washington Press corps during his stand-up routine at their annual prom. Helen Thomas was an integral part of that show. And she had a seat at the table of honor.
Helen Thomas had to go. Why, she wasn't even a paying member of their Association!She only wrote an opinion column! She was not a stenographer to the powerful, like them. When, in 2010, she made what some considered to be imtemperate remarks -- to an ambushing rabbi with a video cam! -- on Israel and its attack on a humanitarian aid flotilla -- it was just the opportunity the Washington establishment had been waiting for. Helen was gone from her front-seat perch in a Beltway swamp minute. They could barely contain their glee. Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs courageously scolded her empty chair in order for the cameras to capture the enforced silencing of a woman who had practiced the art of afflicting the comfortable for half a century. That empty chair was eventually, and symbolically, contaminated by Ed Henry of Fox News.
Like I said, they're a churlish bunch. They were not happy when Colbert, with a hysterically cackling Helen Thomas by his side, reviewed the function of journalists in the Age of Inverted Totalitarianism:
But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction!Helen Thomas was perhaps the last intrepid reporter left in Washington. So she had to go. She was not a member of the club, and did not adhere to their rules. Had she been allowed to stay, she probably would have asked Jay Carney if Obama gets a hard-on at Terror Tuesdays, as he decides who lives and who dies by predator drone.
But now that Helen Thomas is safely dead, they're coming out of the woodwork with their effusive phony praise. She was a maverick. She opened doors. She broke the glass ceiling. She broke their precious little hearts.
Here's a quiz. See if you can guess* when the following remarks were made: whether after Helen Thomas broke the forbidden rule about speaking ill of Israel, or after Helen Thomas died:
1) "It's a shame, because Helen really was an institution in Washington." -- President Obama.
2) "Many in our profession who have known Helen for years were saddened..." -- White House Correspondents Association leadership.
3) "Michelle and I were saddened ... Helen was a true pioneer, opening doors and breaking down barriers for generations of women in journalism." -- President Obama.
4) "Helen Thomas made it possible for all of us who followed" -- Mrs. Alan Greenspan (Andrea Mitchell.)
5.) "A sad way for her career to end." -- Mrs. Alan Greenspan (Andrea Mitchell.)
The treatment given to Helen Thomas by her colleagues a couple of years ago is very much being echoed in the current criticism by the establishment press of Glenn Greenwald. Here's smarmy Chuck Todd of NBC -- the poster boy of fawning access reportage -- waxing hysterical about the uppity Helen Thomas in 2010:
Well, I think there were a lot of people that have been uncomfortable with the fact that she's been an opinion columnist for years now. You know she's not been a reporter for a long time. And you know the definition of reporter and columnist has gotten, the lines have been blurred now for over a decade. It gets even worse in this case in distinguishing the two. And this was something that was a topic, frankly that I think a lot, in the White House Correspondents Association, everybody was kind of avoiding. Right? This issue of talk radio. Look there's a couple of talk radio hosts that hard passes, too. They just don't have a front row seat. But they ask very opinionated, you know it's not really a reporter. You can't call them a reporter, these folks. They're really just sort of on the, you know they're columnists. They're, talk radio hosts are nothing more than, sort of, verbal columnists. And so you wonder what is the line here? And I think that this is reigniting that debate on, you know, who is there to do reporting on the White House and who is there to just write a column? No one should say that they shouldn't occasionally be allowed in the press room But do you get a front row seat? Do you get a seat at all? And I think that's reigniting that debate. And I think you're gonna see some more stringent rules form the White House Correspondents Association going forward.And here's Chuck again, whining about Greenwald's un-clubby backtalk to fellow steno David Gregory:
Glenn Greenwald, you know, how much was he involved in the plot? It's one thing as a source, but what was his role –did he have a role beyond simply being a receiver of this information? And is he going to have to answer those questions? There is a point of law. He's a lawyer. He attacked the premise of your question. He didn't answer it.And Helen Thomas dared ask Bush why he invaded Iraq. She dared have a point of view. She dared to be the dreaded breed known as Activus Journalistus. She belonged to that rare, increasingly marginalized species known as reporters with an independent brain: Greenwald, the late I.F. Stone, Chris Hedges. Had Helen Thomas been embarking on her career today, she would have had her own blog. Those newspapers and wire services where she got her start? Either all gone, or sucked up into the voracious maw of the corporate conglomerate.
Goodbye, Helen. You were an inspiration to me. Your star will long outshine all the feeble little winky-blinks that have sputtered to life over the years, only to choke and die from inhaling too many of their own toxic fumes.
You were a breath of fresh air. You still are.
A year after she was fired, Helen Thomas was asked how she'd like to be remembered . After tearfully predicting she'd only be remembered as an anti-Semite, she responded,
“As the person who asked why. That’s what I want as my epitaph: ‘Why?’ It’s always been my favorite question, even though it rarely gets answered."
1) Career obit.
2) Career obit.
3) Corporeal obit.
4) Corporeal obit.
5) Career obit.