Updated at 6/7/10 12:20 p.m.
Helen Thomas, the long-described dean of the White House press corps, announced her retirement as a columnist for Hearst News Service after coming under fire for anti-Semitic comments caught on video last week. The retirement, announced on Hearst’s website, is effective immediately.
“I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Thomas said in a statement Monday. “They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.”
Thomas — who has covered every president since Dwight Eisenhower and is less than two months away from her 90th birthday — was shown on a RabbiLIVE video saying Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine,” suggesting they go to Germany, Poland or the U.S.
Her comments last week follow a long history of questionable statements: At the White House briefing just the other day, she called the recent Gaza flotilla raid a “deliberate massacre and international crime.” In April 2002, Thomas began a question to then-press secretary Ari Fleischer this way: “Does the president think that the Palestinians have a right to resist 35 years of brutal military occupation and suppression?” Fleischer is now leading the calls for Thomas’ ousting from the White House Press Corps.
Four years later, Fleischer’s successor, the late Tony Snow, responded to an especially pungent rant from Thomas on the Middle East by thanking her “for the Hezbollah view.”
Thomas is a self-described liberal, but when it comes to Israel, her vitriol is bipartisan. During a briefing in March, she asked Robert Gibbs: “Why do we keep giving, as Vice President Biden did, iron-clad commitments to Israel when it violates international law? And the president says that our relationship is unshakeable. How can that be?”
And those are just the remarks Thomas has made during the White House briefings, which are televised. In more private settings she has gone much further. During a 2004 speech to the Al-Hewar Center, a D.C.-based Arab organization, Thomas likened Palestinian protesters to the anti-Nazi resistance.
“It turns out that even Middle Easterners — Arabs — will fight for their own land,” Thomas said. “They’re the enemy in their own country, trying to defend their own land … During World War II, those who resisted the Nazi occupation were heralded for their resistance against tyranny. But when Arabs do that, do they get that kind of salute? The Palestinians who resist every day the tyrannical occupation are in the same boat.”
Thomas has been a fixture in the White House press corps for decades. While most chairs in the White House briefing room are assigned to news organizations, she is the only journalist to have a chair — in the front row — assigned exclusively to her.
Updated at 6/7/10 4:35 a.m.
Few living legends exist within the world of political journalism. Fewer are still practicing the trade. One of them is Helen Thomas, who has been a White House correspondent for more than 50 years, covering every president since the Eisenhower. Thomas has won virtually every award in journalism short of the Pulitzer, including many (from the Asian American Journalists Association, for instance) that seem to have been invented specifically for her. At the age of 89, Helen Thomas is officially a National Treasure.
And despite her revered status she now finds herself in a world of trouble.
Thomas, a columnist for Hearst Newspapers, issued an apology on her Web site on Friday for comments that were captured on video by an interviewer for the website www.rabbilive.com. On the video dated May 27, Thomas says Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine,” suggesting they go to Germany, Poland or the U.S.
WATCH HELEN BASH THE JEWS
Reached for comment by The Daily Caller before her most incendiary video was made widely available, Thomas wouldn’t say that Jewish members of the media influence the coverage of Israel, though she does allow that “obviously they [Jews] care about their people. Why shouldn’t they? … They have the right to their own opinion, but they should look up the real history of the situation.”
“The media has so much access to the truth,” said Thomas. “And the truth is the only thing that counts. … All I’m asking is that everyone be fair.” Her comments strike a strange note in light of the storm of criticism that threatens to consume her career.
On Sunday, a high school graduation speech Thomas was going to give was canceled the school’s principal said.
Thomas had been scheduled to speak at the June 14 graduation of Walt Whitman High School, but Principal Alan Goodwin wrote in the e-mail to students and parents that she was being replaced. The school in the Washington suburb of Bethesda, Md., hasn’t picked a new speaker.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.