SPJ keeps Helen Thomas award alive, despite second anti-Semitic outburst

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter

Former White House correspondent and columnist Helen Thomas’s anti-Semitic remarks haven’t stopped the Society of Professional Journalists from eliminating or renaming its “Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award,” which recognizes individuals “for a lifetime of contribution to the journalism profession.”

SPJ, which has come under fire for recommending that journalists use the phrase “undocumented workers” rather than “illegal immigrants,” still advertises the award named for the disgraced former Hearst Newspapers columnist. The group reportedly considered eliminating or renaming the award following Thomas’s original remarks — when she said Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine” — but has yet to act.

Calls for SPJ to do something about the award were renewed after Thomas made more anti-Semitic remarks in December at a forum in Dearborn, Mich., saying: “Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street, are owned by the Zionists. No question. We’re being pushed into a wrong direction in every way.”

In a Wall Street Journal article, SPJ president Hagit Limor said: “We discussed the issue at our exec board meeting in July 2010. The majority believed this to be a one-time slip that didn’t change Ms. Thomas’s lifetime of service, which is what we were honoring.”

An SPJ spokesperson has said the group’s executive board will again consider renaming or eliminating the award at its first meeting of 2011, on Jan. 8, but those mid-December attacks by Thomas sparked her Alma Mater, Wayne State University, to eliminate an award named for her almost immediately.

It remains unclear whether or not SPJ will remove or rename the award.