One remark undid great career

Published 10:16 pm Monday, June 7, 2010

Helen Thomas probably never knew a time in her journalistic career when “kinder and gentler” were anything but rhetoric spouted by a president she once covered.

Thomas, that little woman in the front row of most presidential press conferences with the hooked nose, often asked the unthinkable and the hardest questions. It was her stock in trade.

She grew up in Detroit, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants. She made her way through a man’s world at the time, often rising before the sun to write copy for United Press International’s radio programs.

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During her early career, Thomas covered various federal agencies. It was not until 1960 when John F. Kennedy moved into the White House that the grand dame moved up to cover the president of the United States.

And, there she stayed until her retirement Monday.

At one time, Thomas said they would have to carry her out of the White House “feet first.”

They didn’t have to. Thomas, 89, blew a great career with many firsts because of her sharp tongue.

On May 27, 2010, outside a White House Jewish heritage event, Rabbi David Nesenoff asked if Thomas had any comments on Israel. Thomas replied, “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine… Remember, these people are occupied, and it’s their land.”

She was then asked where the Israelis should go, to which she replied: “they should go home” to “Poland, Germany,… America and everywhere else.”

Later, Thomas apologized, but the damage was done.

A great career. A keeper of the public trust, she was.

But likely what many will remember for generations to come will be her gaffe.

What a loss to history.