The Helen Thomas Treatment: Who Gets It, And Why?
Now that the good burghers of the free press have disinvited, disavowed, and disemployed Helen Thomas from the world of respectable reporting, I expect that she will quickly vanish from the front pages and home pages of the media, both print and interweb. By tomorrow evening, the media chatter will be all about the primary results, and Helen Thomas will be history.
I am not willing to let this story go that easily, however, because I think the larger meaning of what happened goes way beyond Thomas herself. There are all sorts of lessons here about who gets the Helen Thomas treatment and who doesn’t, even when they’re saying the same things, or very similar.
Glenn Greenwald touched on this in his post earlier today about the way the Washington press corps’ fawning relationship with whatever administration is in power affects the press’s choices about which news gets covered and how it gets covered:
In March, Daily Kos’ Susan Gardner highlighted passages from a New York Magazine profile of Liz Cheney which detailed the extensive social relationships between Cheney and all sorts of leading media and political figures, including David Gregory, The Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler, former DNC head Terry McAuliffe, and Mika Brzezinski, to whom Cheney sent a box of cupcakes after Brzezinski, on her show, criticized Cheney’s father. …
… Do you think any of those frivolities might temper their desire to expose the war crimes and call for the prosecution of their good friend Liz’s dad? For the same reason, numerous progressives were incensed — rightfully so — when John McCain invited the press corps which covered his campaign for a weekend party of wine-drinking, BBQ-ing, and other fun games at his (wife’s) ranch in Sedona, Arizona. I presume everyone will agree that playing water sports with Emanuel and Biden is no less compromising than sipping white wine on McCain’s tire swing or extensively socializing with Liz Cheney.
Does one need to wonder why there was no media outcry when Joe Biden dismissed the deaths of numerous civilians at the hands of the Israelis in international waters, including an American citizen, with the obnoxious, Israel-subservient cry: “So what’s the big deal here”? Who wants to criticize someone who was nice enough to invite you to his beach party and whose wife paid attention to you, established your importance, and gave you self-esteem by chasing you with a water gun? Why risk not being invited the next time? Perhaps if Helen Thomas had attended more water park parties with the White House and her fellow reporters, she’d still have her job. …
What was the meaningful difference between Helen Thomas saying Jews in Israel should “go home” to Germany or Poland or America, and Joe Biden saying that refugee relief volunteers should just let Israel decide whether humanitarian supplies can go through to Palestinians who are imprisoned inside the Israelis’ blockade of Gaza? Why was it callous and even anti-Semitic for Thomas to use language that implied it should be no big deal for Israeli Jews to go back “home” to countries they lived in before the Holocaust, or before they moved to Israel; but not callous or anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian for Biden to explicitly state it should be no big deal for Palestinians to wait patiently in their open-air prison while Israel decided if they could have what they needed to live, and if so, how much? Didn’t Biden’s “What is the big deal?” show at least as much cruelty in its trivialization of Palestinian suffering as Thomas’s “They can go home to Germany or Poland or America” showed in its trivialization of Jewish suffering? And yet Thomas’s remark was considered so beyond the pale that she had to be completely banished from her profession, whereas Biden’s remark was a throwaway line that attracted almost no attention at all.
James Joyner says — and he’s absolutely right — that Thomas is an “easy target”:
I’m befuddled that so many bloggers are so enthusiastic about getting someone fired over airing controversial views. That’s the nature of our enterprise, isn’t it?Further, while I don’t agree with Thomas’ policy position here, aside from being woefully misinformed about the origin of much of the Israeli population, why exactly is it beyond the pale? She’s not calling for Jews to be exterminated or even forcefully evacuated, merely that they “go home.” That most of them are home, in the sense that they were born in Israel, makes the statement vapid. But so horrible that the likes of Craig Crawford have to disassociate themselves? Hell, I’ve heard more than one American Jew express similar opinions.
Joyner also makes the same point I made in my post yesterday “How I Feel About Helen Thomas” — about the ungenerousness of believing that Thomas was calling for Israeli Jews to “go back to Auschwitz”:
This is largely irrelevant now that Thomas has “retired” as a columnist. But many are taking the most uncharitable possible view of Thomas’ remarks — that she was advocating “ethnic cleaning” or supporting the Holocaust — and attributing any defense of her as condoning that sentiment. If that’s what Thomas meant then — and this shouldn’t need to be said — I of course condemn it.But modern day Germany and Poland are not killing Jews. So, the plain meaning of Thomas’ words are simply that she wishes that the Jews would “go home” to a perfectly safe place and this magically end the stand-off that exists in the region. It’s a ridiculously dimwitted notion, for reasons expressed in the original post, but not an odious one.
Gabriel Winant has a must-read article at Salon which makes the point that the righteous indignation among conservatives over Thomas’s supposed “Jew hatred” and the totally over-the-top accusations of “cheering [for] ethnic cleansing” is just utter humbug:
Moreover, while they’re busy wielding Thomas’ statement like a club, conservatives are happily ignoring the fact that figures from their movement have made parallel comments, equally atrocious, about the Palestinians. And, unlike Thomas, they haven’t even bothered to apologize.
Sarah Palin, for example, was quick to jump all over Thomas’ comment. On Twitter, Palin wrote, “Helen Thomas press pals condone racist rant? Heaven forbid ‘esteemed’ press corps represent society’s enlightened elite; Rest of us choose truth.” (I’ve added some spaces in there to make it readable.) I’m not entirely sure what Palin means there, except that she’s calling Thomas racist. Palin herself, however, has called for Israel to continue expanding settlement in Palestinian territory. This is, de facto, a call for Israel to deny the Palestinians a state, and eventually to expel them.
Then there’s Mike Huckabee, who explicitly called for Israel to deport the Palestinians from the West Bank, so Israel could complete settling it. That’s ethnic cleansing, folks. Scarcely a peep was to be heard from the right while major political figures like Huckabee and Palin — not 89-year-old cranky columnists — were calling for it.
Just moments ago, Jonah Goldberg wrote at NRO that the Thomas “scandal” isn’t surprising at all, since everyone knows she’s a “nasty piece of work” but liberals keep her around anyway:
Also, let’s just get the liberal bias thing out of the way. If there was a rightwinger who’d spouted so much bile, hate and ideological agenda-driven nonsense in the White House briefing room for half a century it would be … oh wait, no such person would have ever been allowed to become a Washington “institution” in the first place.
It’s true. No conservative could ever have become a Washington institution similar to Thomas. Instead, the GOP would have seriously considered such a person to run the country, provided the right kind of racism was on display.
In other words, their problem with Thomas isn’t that she’s in favor of uprooting an established ethnic community and shipping it out in the name of another group’s nationalist aspirations. She just chose the wrong group.
Yep. And if you don’t believe it from Gabriel Winant, maybe you will from the New York Post‘s Andrea Peyser and her merry band of fearful followers:
There was a protest yesterday, attended by various wingnuts, racists, riled-up nativists, and terrified fools, of the supposed “Ground Zero mosque.” (It will not be at Ground Zero, and it will actually be a community center that will include a mosque. But still.)
While national conservatives have picked up the ball, what local opposition there is to the proposed community center has been ginned up by Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post — mainly via perpetually outraged columnist Andrea Peyser, whose anti-mosque columns are regularly teased on the front page.
The entire anti-mosque campaign isn’t about anything other than pure, paranoid Islamophobia. A Peyser column a few weeks ago was entirely about people in Sheepshead Bay — some miles from Ground Zero — protesting a proposed mosque solely because they’re scared of Muslims.
Anyway, they had their protest yesterday. Mike Kelly of the Bergen (New Jersey) Record reported this heartwarming incident:
At one point, a portion of the crowd menacingly surrounded two Egyptian men who were speaking Arabic and were thought to be Muslims.
“Go home,” several shouted from the crowd.
“Get out,” others shouted.
In fact, the two men – Joseph Nassralla and Karam El Masry — were not Muslims at all. They turned out to be Egyptian Coptic Christians who work for a California-based Christian satellite TV station called “The Way.” Both said they had come to protest the mosque.
“I’m a Christian,” Nassralla shouted to the crowd, his eyes bulging and beads of sweat rolling down his face.
But it was no use. The protesters had become so angry at what they thought were Muslims that New York City police officers had to rush in and pull Nassralla and El Masry to safety.
In case you’re wondering, Rupert Murdoch has been able to resist the barrage of protests calling for Peyser’s resignation.Click here for reuse options!
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