Helen Thomas Retires in Wake of Anti-Israel Remarks
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
Copyright by The New York Times
June 7, 2010, 12:05 PM
Updated: Helen Thomas announced on Monday that she is retiring, moments after the White House Correspondents Association said it was considering stripping her of her front-row press room seat.
The 89-year-old so-called “dean of the White House press corps” had caused an uproar after making remarks in May suggesting that Israeli Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and return to Germany and Poland “or wherever they came from.”
Ms. Thomas, a columnist for Hearst Newspapers who has frequently been critical of Israel, had apologized for the comments. She made them to a rabbi who interviewed her on videotape outside the White House during a celebration of Jewish heritage in May.
The decision to retire, effective immediately, was announced by Hearst Newspapers, which syndicates her column. Ms. Thomas will turn 90 on August 4.
The board of the correspondents association had just met to consider how to respond to her contentious remarks, and had issued this statement:
”Helen Thomas’ comments were indefensible and the White House Correspondents Association board firmly dissociates itself from them. Many in our profession who have known Helen for years were saddened by the comments, which were especially unfortunate in light of her role as a trail blazer on the White House beat.
While Helen has not been a member of the WHCA for many years, her special status in the briefing room has helped solidify her as the dean of the White House press corps so we feel the need to speak out strongly on this matter.
We want to emphasize that the role of the WHCA is to represent the White House press corps in its dealings with the White House on coverage-related issues. We do not police the speech of our members or colleagues. We are not involved at all in issuing White House credentials, that is the purview of the White House itself.
But the incident does revive the issue of whether it is appropriate for an opinion columnist to have a front row seat in the WH briefing room. That is an issue under the jurisdiction of this board. We are actively seeking input from our association members on this important matter, and we have scheduled a special meeting of the WHCA board on Thursday to decide on the seating issue.
Earlier on Monday, Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, condemned the remarks made by Ms. Thomas.
Mr. Gibbs said he had not spoken directly with the president about it. But, he added: “Those remarks were offensive and reprehensible. She should and has apologized. Obviously those remarks do not reflect, certainly, the opinion of I assume most of the people in here, and certainly not of the administration.”