Veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas announced today that she is retiring after covering 10 presidents, following a political firestorm over her comments about Jews, Palestinians and Israel.
Thomas’ role as the dean of the press corps has long been held in high regard even as her presence at the White House waned as she approached the age of 90 and was sometimes caught speaking about politically charged topics. Her focus of the last few years has been the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and when questioning President Obama and administration officials, she has asked why those countries have been “occupied.” She was a vocal critic of President George W. Bush, and the presidential tradition of calling upon Thomas at White House press conferences also has become less frequent.
[TPM SLIDESHOW: COVERING THE PRESIDENT: HELEN THOMAS AND THE WHITE HOUSE]The Hearst corporation issued a statement announcing Thomas’ decision.
Heart’s announcement in the short statement below capped a weekend where the Drudge Report first bannered her remarks saying the Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” suggesting that “home” was “Poland. Germany. And America and everywhere else.”
The comments to a RabbiLIVE.com reporter with a video camera were among the topics at Washington parties over the weekend. The White House and the White House Correspondents Association were forced to address the issue today.
Here’s the full Hearst statement:
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.
Thomas later issued a statement: “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.”
Thomas will mark her 90th birthday on Aug. 4.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said today that Thomas’s comments about Israel were “offensive and reprehensible.” During his press briefing this morning, which Thomas did not attend, Gibbs said that though he hasn’t spoken with Obama about the her comments, they “do not reflect” the view of his administration.
He added, “she should, and has apologized.”
The WHCA board – elected by reporters who cover the White House and responsible for the decision to give Thomas her own front-row seat in the James Brady Briefing Room – issued a statement as well, saying the remarks were “especially unfortunate” given her storied career.
Helen Thomas’ comments were indefensible and the White House Correspondents Association board firmly dissociates itself from them. Many in our profession who have known Helen for years were saddened by the comments, which were especially unfortunate in light of her role as a trail blazer on the White House beat.
While Helen has not been a member of the WHCA for many years, her special status in the briefing room has helped solidify her as the dean of the White House press corps so we feel the need to speak out strongly on this matter.
We want to emphasize that the role of the WHCA is to represent the White House press corps in its dealings with the White House on coverage-related issues. We do not police the speech of our members or colleagues. We are not involved at all in issuing White House credentials, that is the purview of the White House itself.
But the incident does revive the issue of whether it is appropriate for an opinion columnist to have a front row seat in the WH briefing room. That is an issue under the jurisdiction of this board. We are actively seeking input from our association members on this important matter, and we have scheduled a special meeting of the WHCA board on Thursday to decide on the seating issue.
Ed Chen, Bloomberg
David Jackson, USA Today
Caren Bohan, Reuters
Ed Henry, CNN
Julie Mason, DC Examiner
Don Gonyea, National Public Radio
Steve Scully, C-SPAN
Doug Mills, The New York Times
Watch the comments that got Thomas in trouble:
Additional reporting by Jillian Rayfield and Christina Bellantoni