Exit Helen Thomas

It’s too bad that Helen Thomas didn’t retire years ago from her job as White House correspondent when she could have done so with dignity. Unlike baseball players, journalists tend to stay in the job long after they lose their ability to hit the long ball.  That was true of once-revered figures such as James Reston, and it is true of  David Broder and Larry King today. In contrast, Bill Moyers and, in an earlier era, Walter Cronkite retired when they were at the top of their game.

Helen Thomas is best known for asking questions at Presidential press conferences that other reporters do not dare to ask. But the reason she could get away with asking them is that she functioned as a licensed court jester – someone who could speak insults, nonsense or unwelcome truths because nobody took her seriously. It was an indulgence that was a flip side of prejudice against elderly women. She was a kind of mascot, a sort of elderly child who sometimes said the darndest things.

She deserves credit for being a woman who made her way to the top in journalism at a time when women were relegated to what was then called the “society page.” She must have had a tough time. I respect her for that. But what great news stories did she write? Her biography on her web site mentions her many journalism awards, but it has been a long time since she broke an important news story (*).

I agree that her remark about Jews in Israel going back where they came from was thoughtless and offensive, but I think they are less the words of someone who hates Jews than of someone who has lost the habit of thinking before she speaks.

Click on this for Helen Thomas’ biography on her web page.

Click on this for the infamous video that got Helen Thomas into trouble.
Click on this for an undoctored version of the interview.

Comparison of the two videos indicates to me that she was set up. But as an American of Lebanese descent who was critical of Israel, she should have realized that she was a target, and considered the consequences of her words.

Click on this for a good assessment of Helen Thomas’ career.

Click on this for a range of opinion about Helen Thomas and her interview.

As for myself, I’m glad I had the good fortune to be able to retire from journalism a couple of weeks short of my 62nd birthday, and the good sense to take advantage of the opportunity. Retirement need not be the end of life. It can be an opportunity to try new things and explore new possibilities.

I don’t, of course, say that is true for everyone.  Some people in their 70s and 80s can do their jobs as well as they ever did. But not everybody.

(*) I toned down a comment about Helen Thomas’ journalistic record because it was not well-founded.

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