It's a sad end to a wonderful career. Helen Thomas, who turns 90 on Aug. 4, announced her sudden retirement Monday following a firestorm of controversy over some ill-chosen remarks about Israel, which found their way onto YouTube.
On May 27, outside a Jewish heritage event at the White House, Thomas was asked by a rabbi wielding a video camera if she had any comments on Israel. Perhaps not au fait with the way footage can spread on the Internet, she said, "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine," and added, "Remember, these people [the Palestinians] are occupied, and it's their land." When asked where the Jews might go, Thomas responded, "They can go home ... [to] Poland, Germany ... and then America and everywhere else."
Thomas subsequently apologized on her Web site, saying, "I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."
But it was too late. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called the remarks "offensive and reprehensible." Lanny Davis, a former White House spokesperson for Bill Clinton, issued a statement saying that Thomas, whom he used to consider a friend, "has showed herself to be an anti-Semitic bigot." Her speaking agency, Nine Speakers, dropped her from its roster, saying in a statement that "Ms. Thomas has had an esteemed career as a journalist, and she has been a trailblazer for women, helping others in her profession, and beyond. However, in light of recent events, Nine Speakers is no longer able to represent Ms. Thomas, nor can we condone her comments on the Middle East."
The White House Correspondents' Association also condemned her, and many called for her to be fired by Hearst Newspapers, for whom she was a columnist. It seems she either saved Hearst the trouble or was given the option of bowing out with a small measure of grace.
Here's an excerpt from the press release issued by Hearst:
"WASHINGTON, June 7, 2010—Helen Thomas announced Monday that she is retiring, effective immediately.
Her decision came after her controversial comments about Israel and the Palestinians were captured on videotape and widely disseminated on the Internet."
We have reached out to Hearst and Thomas and will update the story with any comments.