I think a lot of people in Washington need to get a grip.
For starters, this is a classic gaffe because Helen Thomas accidentally told the truth. She’s wrong on the substance, obviously. But of course she believes the Israelis should go away. I sincerely doubt there is anyone familiar with Thomas who really doubts for a moment that she was being less than honest when she made her “back to Poland” comments or that she is lying now when she says she didn’t mean it.
But beyond that, can we do away with all of the shock and dismay at Thomas’ statement? Spare me Lanny Davis’s wounded outrage. Everyone knows she is a nasty piece of work and has been a nasty piece of work for decades.
And when I say a nasty piece of work, I don’t simply mean her opinions on Israel. She’s been full-spectrum awful. I’ve known a few people who knew her 40 years ago, and she was slimy then too. One small example can be found in James Rosen’s excellent book on John Mitchell, The Strong Man. Mitchell’s wife Martha was a mentally unstable alcoholic who would call reporters to vent sad, paranoid, fact-free theories and diatribes. At first, many reporters were eager to hear her out, but over time it became obvious that Martha Mitchell was not well and it was cruel to exploit her. Obvious, that is, to nearly everyone but Helen Thomas who continued to milk Martha Mitchell for damning quotes and nonsense.
Also, let’s just get the liberal bias thing out of the way. If there was a right-winger who’d spouted so much bile, hate, and ideological agenda-driven nonsense in the White House briefing room for half a century it would be . . . oh wait, no such person would have ever been allowed to become a Washington “institution” in the first place. According to the media graybeards, it’s always been a sign of seriousness and unwavering truth-seeking for reporters to attack from the left (c.f. Dan Rather, Daniel Schorr, et al.).
See? She’s not biased she asks Obama and Clinton tough questions too! Yes, from the hard, loony left.
All of these condemnations, equivocations, repudiations, and protestations are all fundamentally silly because they are part of a D.C. Kabuki that treats the last straw as if it was wholly different than the million other straws everyone was happy to carry.
Suddenly, all of these people and groups are stunned to discover that Helen Thomas is . . . Helen Thomas. Feh.
Update: From a reader:
When you dismiss the hullabaloo surrounding Ms. Thomas’s comments, you speak from the perspective of one familiar with Washington DC, and all its eddies and currents. The vast majority of the American public, unfortunately, pays little attention to the underlying personalities involved. I daresay few could come up with any anti-Semitic or anti-Israel comments made by others in the Washington media – perhaps because viewpoints are camouflaged by subtlety and not easily discernible by the casual observer.
The comments made by Thomas, however, are a startling aberration – she is more widely recognized than most, and these comments so naked in their hostility, that even the mainstream press may have to cover it (CNN.com has carried articles for the past two days, and FOXNews, of course, is carrying it; sadly, I was aggressively engaged in honey-do chores yesterday, missed every one of the talk shows).
Will there be far-reaching effects past the possible disappearance of Ms. Thomas from the White House briefing room? Probably not. But she has conjured up a tempest somewhat larger than your average teapot, which qualifies in today’s standards as a scandal.