Helen Thomas is ethnically Arab, but she is a natural-born citizen of America. She spoke to an Arab-American group called Arab Detroit. (The Free Press claims that “a majority” of her audience was “non-Arab,” but it’s not clear how the reporter would have ascertained that.)That is to say, Thomas is an American, making an ethnically based appeal to fellow citizens. She urges Americans of Arab origin not only to view “Zionists” as their enemy but also to regard their own government–in a time of war–as being under the control of that enemy.
In doing so, she is trading on her reputation as, in the words of the Society of Professional Journalists, “a living icon of journalism for her dogged pursuit of the truth in a career that has spanned almost 60 years.” We have long wondered what if anything she did to deserve that reputation, so we took the opportunity to ask SPJ president Limor if she could give us examples of stories Thomas had broken or advanced, risks she had taken on behalf of the public’s right to know, or original analytical insights she had offered. Limor’s response:
The Lifetime Achievement award honors just that, not any specific story. Helen Thomas filed countless reports covering 10 presidents since the 1960s. Her body of work is unmatched on this beat; thus SPJ attached her name to our award for lifetime achievement.
This reinforces our suspicion that the accolades for Thomas are based entirely on the quantity rather than the quality of her work. Instead of a living icon of journalism, she would be more accurately described as an icon of long life who used to work in journalism.
When the executive board meets next month, we hope they’ll consider this suggestion from reader John Steele Gordon: “If the SPJ decides to change the name, how about calling it the Daniel Pearl Award for Lifetime Achievement? He worked as a journalist until the moment he died. Helen Thomas got to retire.”
That seems eminently reasonable to me. The “Sirhan Sirhan wing of the Democrat Party,” as Stacy McCain dubs them might respond rather explosively though to the suggestion.