Helen Thomas, Ripped in Pieces?

Statement on Helen Thomas from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists
Friday, June 11, 2010

Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas

For decades, Helen Thomas has been a paragon for younger journalists and her closing her career as a bad role model provides lessons as well, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists finds.

Thomas, who turns 90 in August, has been since the 1940s a fixture in Washington as a wire service reporter, becoming a columnist only 10 years ago. Thomas has been a justly honored correspondent, also noted for breaking gender barriers in the profession. In May, informally but into a loaded camcorder, Thomas harshly criticized Israel’s Palestinian policies and said its Jewish citizens should leave the country. Thomas apologized, but her speakers bureau dropped her and she resigned from Hearst News Service.

Thomas never has been an NSNC member and is not subject to its rules. The society’s Code of Conduct is worth considering, regardless. The code advises journalistic ethics of accuracy and fairness while advocating the license needed for columns of opinion and humor.

Thomas was not writing but being interviewed, making most of the NSNC code inapplicable. This was not even a case of using one’s position for personal gain.

Its last sentence is noteworthy. “I will always remember that my job is a privilege and honor because being a columnist represents the basic American rights of free speech and open discussion.”

The National Society of Newspaper Columnists believes a commentator can communicate any damn fool thing, but that doesn’t guarantee security from her employer or respect from her peers — or her audience.

The NSNC regrets seeing a career end this way and hopes in the coming months this incident will lead to a greater good.

— Ben S. Pollock, NSNC vice president


*This statement may not reflect the individual opinion of every member.

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  3 comments for “Helen Thomas, Ripped in Pieces?

  1. July 18, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    I think you were all too polite! I had met Helen Thomas in person and was in awe of her – but her vitriolic comments, telling “Jews go back to Poland and Germany” – just too obscene to consider!! I do feel bad that someone who had had a prestigious position in American journalism revealed such hatred and went out on such a sour note. But it’s scary to think that a woman as well traveled, as well connected, and as well educated as Helen Thomas could harbor such prejudiced thoughts!!

  2. June 14, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    Thank you for the statement. As the author of that final sentence, I remember clearly what motivated me to write it: – “I will always remember that my job is a privilege and honor because being a columnist represents the basic American rights of free speech and open discussion.”
    It’s so easy as a columnist to start believing what your readers say to you. We love you. You’re great. Or on the other side, we hate you. You stink. But it’s tough to maintain that balanced viewpoint and not get a big head. It takes effort.
    What an honor to be an American newspaper columnist in the tradition of Thomas Paine, Ben Franklin, Mike Royko, Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill, and our newest Pulitzer winner, Kathleen Parker.
    I’m not here to comment on Thomas’ plight. Everyone else can do that. I just am writing this to remind all of us that we have a great stage and it’s important to get up every day and stay humble, smart, useful and motivated. — Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

  3. Susan Young
    June 11, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    Well stated, Ben. Would that we all could have as illustrious a career as Helen, at the age of 89, and still be immersed in such controversy!

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