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The Washington Post Keeps Rockin’, Hides Helen Thomas’ Decline

Another "Macaca" moment, but infinitely worse, and actually bigoted? Not a chance, if the Post can help it. Update: Post and New York Times readers left scratching their heads, as Thomas "retires."

by
Richard Pollock

Bio

June 7, 2010 - 7:36 am

It is day four of the Helen Thomas saga. The 89-year-old White House doyen, adored by Washington’s liberal mainstream media, told a Jewish rabbi in a video that Jews must “get the hell out of Palestine” and must “go home” to Germany and Poland.

The issue has been raging since Thomas’ ugly comments were released on Friday by RabbiLive.com. Ironically, Thomas made her remarks at a White House Jewish Heritage Month observance.

Meanwhile, over at the Washington Post, there is near silence. As of the this writing, searching “Helen Thomas site:washingtonpost.com” on Google brings up two articles on Thomas being dropped as a commencement speaker at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, a Howard Kurtz piece mentioning her remarks, and a post debating if Hearst will drop Thomas as a journalist.

Otherwise, the Post, which prides itself since the days of Watergate as being the “political” paper of record, is dark. There’s no initial report on Thomas’ remarks, which given her stature as a near household name, particularly inside the Beltway, are certainly newsworthy. In that regard, this is much like the legacy media covering the fallout of the Swift Boat Vets in 2004 on the op-ed pages, without actually reporting their remarks in the news section first. (And then making the group’s name a pejorative slur, rather than researching or repeating their actual claims.)

Or the L.A. Times’ “Keep Rockin” moment to avoid reporting on John Edwards’ affair.

Or the elite media’s initial lack of response on ClimateGate. (To the point where commenters on some outlets’ sites and even TV channels were asking: where are you on this one?)

But while the Post keeps rockin’, Thomas has been denounced by former Clinton apologist Lanny Davis. Her speaking agency, Nine Speakers, has dumped her. Ari Fleisher, former White House press secretary, says she is calling for “religious cleansing” and that she ought to be fired by her bosses at Hearst Newspapers.

At PJTV there is a survey about whether the White House should pull her press credentials.  Independently, there is an online campaign underway to force the White House to revoke her White House press credentials. Jewish leaders are denouncing the Lebanese-American journalist as the hours tick by.

In the tempo of Washington life, this constitutes three full news cycles of the Helen Thomas story.

The paper’s comparative silence is in contrast with the incendiary anti-Israel coverage of the past week, in which the Post published wall-to-wall coverage of the “peace” flotilla.

As anti-Semitism boiled globally, the Post both aided and abetted the frenzy, but then went silent when anti-Semitism reared its head with a beloved liberal columnist in a liberal town.

Silence, sometimes, is golden. But silence also can be ominous. In the case of D.C., silence from the leading national newspaper in the nation’s capital sends a message to other political and journalistic elites. Sure the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the rest of the MSM are no better in their coverage of the Middle East. But when the Washington Post ignores a story, it is tacit code to the hundreds of bureaus here in town: “you too can ignore this.” Pack journalists take note and move on to other stories.

In contrast, I am trying to imagine the Post’s coverage if a conservative columnist might have urged Mexicans to “get the hell out of the United States” and go home. Do we need any imagination to conjure up the Post’s response?

No. In 2006, the Post ran a Page One story about Senator George Allen, who was caught on tape in front of an audience and used a derogatory word no one had ever heard of: “Macaca.”

The Post pounced, arbitrarily deciding it was derogatory. On the Sunday after the release of the video tape, Post reporters breathlessly wrote: “Word of Sen. George Allen’s controversial comments flashed across the country last week.”

The Washington Post’s archival records show how the paper went into overdrive. The daily drumbeat of outrage from the paper’s editors is nicely chronicled.

Following the Macaca video, the Post ran no fewer than 131 articles on Allen’s slur. Thirteen of the articles slammed Allen on the front page, and 34 were in the national section or on the main editorial page.

It doomed the senator. The nation instead got Democratic Senator Jim Webb. At the same time, with 2008 then looming large, Allen’s viability as a potential GOP presidential candidate was finished, perhaps permanently.

I called the Post’s national desk on Sunday. A polite young woman named Sabrina told me that they are “short staffed on Sunday” and counseled that “I should call back on Monday.”  Sabrina, who refused to give me her last name, did do a search to see if anything was being written about the Thomas controversy for Monday. She said she couldn’t find anything in their queue.

Sabrina did say she would pass on my question about Helen Thomas coverage to someone on the national desk. Nothing yet, but updates will occur if we get one. Josh Gerstein, the White House reporter for Politico, said he wasn’t surprised about the Post running silent on the Thomas story:

I tend to be taken aback by many of the Post’s editorial decisions. … This is just one in a long laundry list.

Some White House reporters are distancing themselves from her. Said White House Correspondents’ Association President Ed Chen:

She doesn’t speak for the WHCA. Her views are hers alone.

As noted earlier, Ari Fleisher called for her to be fired:

She is advocating religious cleansing. How can Hearst stand by her? If a journalist, or a columnist, said the same thing about blacks or Hispanics, they would already have lost their jobs.

Former Clinton aide Lanny Davis concurs.

Gerstein told me that the White House press corps has long known that Thomas, whose parents are Lebanese, has radical Middle East views. (She is the daughter of Lebanese parents who immigrated to the United States from Tripoli. Her father’s original name, Antonious, was changed to Thomas):

All of us who have covered the White House have known that she has a pretty weird point of view on all issues related to the Arab Israeli conflict. … Even within the set of views that are sort of mainstream, it is well beyond that.

Well outside of the White House briefing room, it’s a pretty well-kept secret. Helen Thomas is a revered liberal symbol in this town. It should come as no surprise that there is an annual Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement, issued by the Society of Professional Journalists. As the society gushes:

The Award is named after longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas, a living icon of journalism for her dogged pursuit of the truth in a career that has spanned almost 60 years.

The Post’s “see-no-evil” style of minimal coverage of Thomas is in contrast to the last six days of wall-to wall coverage about the flotilla. The first day the Post published a story was on Tuesday, June 1. It commanded front-page declaration-of-war coverage spanning five of the six columns, and included a “news analysis” saying Israel “will complicate the Obama administration’s efforts to improve its tense relations with Jerusalem.” The lead Post editorial condemned Israel.

The second day was front-age coverage as well. The article was no better, titled “Nations decry blockade of Gaza.” The third day front-page story was filed by White House correspondent Scott Wilson — who previously filed many stories as Jerusalem bureau chief that constantly tilted against Israel. The jump page featured a large photo of a donkey standing on an Israeli flag at a protest from Karachi, Pakistan.

To its credit, there was a refreshing June 3 front-page story filed from Gaza City by Post reporter Janine Zacharia. In a bit of enterprise journalism, she actually traveled to the Palestinian city’s main stores and reported what she found:

They are stocked wall-to-wall with everything from fresh Israeli yogurts and hummus to Cocoa Puffs smuggled in from Egypt. Pharmacies look as well-supplied as a typical Rite Aid in the United States.

She even mentioned the Roots Club and Restaurant, as Roger L. Simon recently noted.

On Saturday an article by Wilson lamented about “Obama’s agenda, Israeli ambitions.” Note the passivity of Obama and the aggressiveness of Israel. Wilson decries that Israel “poses a special challenge for President Obama.” There is not too much about Obama posing challenges to Israel. Also on Saturday, the Jewish day of Sabbath, the Post decided to publish an op-ed by a Palestinian journalist softly titled “Extend a hand to Hamas.”

And there is a second op-ed that same day that slammed Israel authored by the Turkish ambassador to the United States.

The front-page Sunday Outlook section commentary added to the seething atmosphere. Its top article was titled “The world is angry. Why doesn’t Israel care?” (The online version was later changed to “After the flotilla attack, it’s time for a new, kinder Israeli narrative.”)

And when the Palestinian boat Rachel Corrie had quietly and peacefully been intercepted and brought to the Israeli port city of Ashdod, the paper tucked it away on page 12.

The media watchdog organization CAMERA has long critiqued the Post for feeding anti-Israel bias. They reported 25 major instances in 2009.

In the wake of the global anti-Semitic blasts of the past week, the Post’s continuing near-silence about the anti-Semitic views of the White House’s leading liberal columnist only aids and abets hatred and bigotry.

Richard Pollock is the Washington, D.C., editor for PJ Media and the Washington bureau chief of PJTV.
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