CNN Affords Helen Thomas Time for Her Side of Story

January 19, 2011 8:53 PM0 comments

HTCAMThe Cable News Network (CNN) broadcast Monday a five-minute segment centered on a review of the 50-year White House correspondent career of Falls Church News-Press columnist Helen Thomas. It included an interview with her in the NewsPress office where CNN’s Soledad O’Brien permitted Thomas the opportunity to explain the controversial remarks she made last summer that temporarily derailed her career.

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HELEN THOMAS, now a weekly columnist for the Falls Church News-Press, is shown being miked up by a technician in preparation for her interview with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien at the News-Press office last week. (Photo: Lou Emery)

The Cable News Network (CNN) broadcast Monday a five-minute segment centered on a review of the 50-year White House correspondent career of Falls Church News-Press columnist Helen Thomas. It included an interview with her in the NewsPress office where CNN’s Soledad O’Brien permitted Thomas the opportunity to explain the controversial remarks she made last summer that temporarily derailed her career.

Thomas, who resumed her career as a weekly columnist for the News-Press earlier this month, stated emphatically that her remarks were misinterpreted and that she is not anti-Semitic.

The complete transcription of the audio component of the segment, aired over the headline, “Helen Thomas: ‘I’m Not Anti-Semitic,’ But Stands By Controversial Remark About Israel,” (which is embedded below and can also be viewed at http://fcne.ws/geUe8i) follows here:

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien (voiceover): Helen Thomas was a legend, calling out presidents from the front row at the White House.

(Video clip of Thomas at a White House press conference): Thomas: “When 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 that Bushism, ‘If we don’t go there they’ll all come here.'”

O’Brien (voiceover): Now 90 years old, she spent 50 of those years relentlessly asking questions like that, the longest serving White House correspondent ever: prolific, influential, respected. Until this exchange with a rabbi who runs a website:

(Video clip): ” Rabbi: Any comments on Israel, we’re asking everybody today?Thomas: Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine. Rabbi: Any better comments on Israel? Unknown: Helen is blunt. Thomas: Remember these people are occupied and it’s their land, it’s not German, and it’s not Poland. Rabbi: So where should they go? What should they do? Thomas: They can go home. Rabbi: Where is home? Thomas: Poland, Germany. Rabbi: So they should go back to Poland and Germany? Thomas: And America, and everywhere else.”

O’Brien (voiceover): The fallout was swift, Hearst Newspapers retired her, and she lost her historic front-row seat at White House news events.

(Video of O’Brien interviewing Thomas at the Falls Church News-Press office):

O’Brien: What did it feel like, beyond sad?

Thomas: Well, I put myself under house arrest for a couple of weeks and cried, then I said, ‘Get with it,’ you know, you have to get with it, you have to face reality

O’Brien: Do you think that you made a mistake and deserved to be fired?

Thomas: Hell no.

O’Brien: Why do you think they fired you?

Thomas: Don’t touch he third rail, which is Israel. You can never mention Israel without being immediately called anti-Semitic, lose your job, or anything else.

O’Brien (voiceover): Today, Thomas has a new job, as a columnist at the 30,000 circulation Falls Church News-Press in Virginia. She spoke to me the day she applied to get back her White House press pass.

O’Brien: Why do you want to keep working?

Thomas: I love being in the press and I love being a reporter and I love being there. A lot of the pro-Israeli people thought I was anti-Semitic, which is very wrong.

O’Brien: Was that hurtful? If it’s wrong, was it hurtful?

Thomas: Of course, all lies are hurtful.

O’Brien (voiceover): Thomas says she does regret not being clear that she accepts Israel’s right to exist in peace, and was in no way suggesting that Jews should return to the land of the Holocaust.

O’Brien: If you had a chance to do that question from the Rabbi again…

Thomas: I’d say the same thing, but I’d have to explain, I’m not talking about Auschwitz, which they definitely tried to interpret it as that. I can still say, I wish I had said, ‘Why can’t they stay where they are now because they aren’t being persecuted?’

O’Brien (voiceover): Thomas is the daughter of Lebanese parents who were members of the Greek Orthodox Church. She spent most of her career as a reporter for United Press International. More recently, as a columnist for Hearst Newspapers, she was openly critical of Israeli policy in the Middle East.

O’Brien: Do you think there is a difference between talking about Israel and Israeli government issues, versus if you were to talk about blacks and Hispanics?

Thomas: I think it’s tougher against the Israelis. But I think it’s all very bad, all … not against Hispanics, no, in Arizona you probably could call them anything. I could call President Obama anything in the book, and no one would say anything. You touch one thing about Israel and you’re finished.

O’Brien: Well, a reputation spanning every president since Kennedy, is a lot to risk.

Thomas: Nobody else can wipe out my reputation, it’s there, I feel very solid about what I am.

O’Brien: So if you were in the briefing room, what would you be asking President Obama?

Thomas: I would be asking him why in the hell were in Afghanistan and Iraq killing and dying. Give me a good reason.

O’Brien to Wolf Blitzer in the CNN studio: So Wolf, at the end of the day, what she wants is that hard pass, that White House press credential that you know ‘oh so well’ and when we spoke to an official at the white house press office he said she is going to have to go through the same process that everyone else has to go through to apply for that hard pass. The way they put it, she retired from her job, which means that that pass over time has expired, and we, as you know, we re-up our passes every single year. Now she’s with a new organization, so like everybody else she’s going to have to reapply and have a letter written on her behalf by her news organization, and then she’ll have to wait and see if she gets her new pass.

Blitzer: She will be able to go back to the White House on an ad-hoc basis from time to time, just call up and say “I’m coming to the White House,” and they’ll say “Fine,” But to get that hard pass, as you point out, will take a lot of work. We’ll see if she winds up getting it. For a 90-year-old woman, she still appears remarkably feisty, doesn’t she, Soledad?

O’Brien: Yeah, you know, feisty is a really good word. I think that’s a perfect description for Helen Thomas. It’s challenging to interview her because as she’s being interviewed, she tends to interview you back, and asks questions of the questioner, but yeah, she really is, you know, she loves reporting and she’d like to get back to it in the spot, or close to the spot where she used to be.

Blitzer: We’ll see what happens. Alright, thanks very much, Soledad O’Brian reporting.

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