President Barack Obama issued a statement praising Helen Thomas, the controversial left-wing journalist who died Saturday.
“What made Helen the ‘Dean of the White House Press Corps’ was not just the length of her tenure, but her fierce belief that our democracy works best when we ask tough questions and hold our leaders to account,” Obama said in his July 20 statement.
He issued the statement one day after he walked out of a room of journalists instead of taking questions about his controversial efforts to blame American racism for high crimes rates among African Americans.
Thomas was the daughter of Christian Arabs who immigrated from Lebanon.
She began a storied journalism career during World War II. She played a pioneering role for women in journalism, and her left-wing and anti-GOP questions at White House press conferences were applauded by many sympathetic journalists.
During the administration of President George W. Bush, her questions displayed open hostility towards Bush’s Middle East policy, and towards Israel, a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, modern democratic state with a Jewish majority that has survived numerous attacks by multiple neighboring Arab dictatorships.
However, she always declined to call herself “Arab-American,” preferring “American.”
In 2009, Obama complimented her at his first press conference by inviting her to ask a question.
Her career came to an end in 2010, when she told a questioner that Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine… Remember, these people are occupied and it’s their land. It’s not German, it’s not Poland.”
Her comments were lauded as “courageous, bold, honest and free opinion,” by Hezbollah, or “Party of Allah,” the Islamic political force that dominates southern Lebanon.
Palestine is an old name for a geographic location between Egypt and Lebanon. It has never existed as a nation-state, but the Jewish-majority governments have existed periodically in that region, since prior to the Roman conquests.
Even Obama condemned Thomas’ comments, saying they were “offensive… [and] out of line.”
But he described her as “a real institution in Washington.”
In his June 20 statement, Obama said “she covered every White House since President Kennedy’s, and during that time she never failed to keep presidents –myself included — on their toes… Our thoughts are with Helen’s family, her friends, and the colleagues who respected her so deeply.”