The Society of Professional Journalists eliminated its Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence in journalism on Friday after a prolonged debate about whether the disgraced former Hearst Newspapers columnist’s anti-Semitic remarks were excusable as an exercise of free speech.
“A prominent objection to taking any action was that of Helen Thomas’ free speech rights” SPJ wrote in a release. “SPJ staunchly believes Helen Thomas and all people in the United States have a right to free speech. The Society defends that fundamental legal right as a core organizational mission, even when the speech is unpopular, vile or considered offensive.”
SPJ will not award any lifetime achievement award, and does not plan to rename this award.
On January 8, SPJ’s executive committee called for a special board of directors meeting to discuss whether or not the organization should rename or eliminate the award. Thomas was the original recipient of the award in its inaugural year, 2000, and SPJ does not plan on removing that “honor or subsequent honorees.”