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August 9, 2013

Death of a giant

Paul Findley

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Helen Thomas, a peerless journalist who challenged presidents fearlessly for fifty years, stuck to the truth even when almost everyone she had counted as friends fled from her side like scared rabbits headed for high grass. She died Saturday at 92, broken in body but not in spirit.

Irritated, Thomas answered one question by saying, “Jews should get the hell out of Palestine.”   Asked where they should go, she said, “Back home to Poland and Germany -- and |America.” 

Although many millions of people, including many Jews, agree that Jewish settlements in Palestine are illegal and should be vacated, her mention of Poland and Germany, once sites of Jewish extermination camps, set off fiery rebuke.  She was plagued with unwarranted charges of anti-Semitism and dismissed from the White House Correspondents’ Association by colleagues, many of long and harmonious acquaintance with Helen.  She was denounced by President Obama and fired by her employer, Hearst Publications. 

Almost all of her news colleagues should have known she was devoid of anti-Semitism but they abandoned her to undeserved venom.  There was one exception.  Soon after the storm, the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee sponsored a dinner in her honor, where Sam Donaldson, Helen’s former ABC colleague, defended her.  He may have been the only former news colleague to do so. The rest were still too frightened to emerge from the tall grass.

During one of several conversations with Helen, I asked, “Did you resign?”  Her answer, “No, I was booted out.  I was fired.”  She wanted to keep working.  Her only job offer was from a neighborhood weekly newspaper editor in Falls Church Virginia.  She accepted the job and continued writing until illness brought this giant down. 

The evening of Helen’s death, CBS news reported, erroneously, that Helen retired after her debacle.  Perhaps the fib was deliberate.  It might spare news colleagues being reminded they fled ignominiously while Helen stood her ground without blinking.

Paul Findley, Member of Congress 1961-83, is author of six books, the latest being

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