Helen Thomas revealed flaws in American democracy and media
Saudi Gazette Sunday, July 28, 2013
By RAY HANANIA
In its campaign to condemn other countries for their alleged lack of freedom and democracy, the United States sits front and center in a house of glass. Over the years there have been many instances and events that have pulled the covers from this fatal flaw that exposes American hypocrisies.
This past week, Helen Thomas died at the age of 92. She was one of the first American Arabs to become a full-time reporter in the mainstream news media. There are many American Arab writers, but most are activists advocating issues. Helen Thomas, though, was the icon of ethics and professionalism and while she was accused of “advocacy,” she merely asked questions that every president she covered disliked.
Helen Thomas was also an American journalism institution, being the first woman to cover the White House beginning during the term of President John F. Kennedy, who was murdered in a conspiracy 50 years ago that was covered up by the government.
Helen Thomas covered every president from Kennedy through President Obama, before she was fired from her job in late 2010 at the Hearst Newspapers after a pro-Israel activist rabbi with a questionable record, ambushed Thomas as she was leaving a White House reception.
The rabbi, who previously had posted racist depictions of Mexican Americans in the context of “humor,” asked Thomas if she had any comments about “Israel” as he videotaped her. Thomas responded in her characteristic and feisty manner: “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.”
The rabbi pushed with more questions, but during the entire incident, Helen Thomas never once mentioned Jews or criticized Jews.
That didn’t matter. It took a few months, but the rabbi’s video was picked up by several anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hate sites and the mainstream media jumped on the story converting it from a criticism of Israel, a foreign government, to an anti-Semitic attack against “Jews.”
It didn’t matter to any of the reporters covering the controversy that Helen Thomas had made a legitimate comment about Israel in the context of Israel withdrawing from the occupied West Bank areas of Palestine, a requirement for peace based on two states. Where should they go? the rabbi asked. “Go home,” Thomas said. But the anti-Arab rabbi didn’t stop and kept pushing asking: “Where’s home?” Thomas replied: “Poland, Germany, America and everywhere else.”
The anti-Arab haters that dominate the mainstream media pounced. They turned a simple off-the-cuff comment into a textbook case of anti-Semitism and Holocaust related hatred. Few people actually saw or heard the actual encounter but most went with the twisted and bigoted reporting of the media and Israel’s army of rightwing fanatic activists.
If Helen Thomas were the only American Arab targeted in a clear act of discrimination for her views, one might write it off as an exception. But she isn’t alone in being tarred and feathered by the Israeli-provoked media hate mob. Several other American Arabs have lost their jobs over expressions of opinions that conflicted with Israel’s interests.
Octavia Nasr, the highly qualified on-air host at CNN’s Middle East desk, was ousted in February 2010 when she expressed condolences on the passing of a moderate Muslim cleric who happened to be a member of Hezbollah, the radical Islamic Lebanese Shiite militia.
A managing editor at a Baltimore Radio station, Sunni Khaled, was fired in 2012 after he referred to the Israeli occupation as being “brutal,” a term human rights groups frequently use to criticize the occupation.
It’s not just Arabs, although being Arab or Muslim makes you an easier victim of the mainstream media’s pro-Israel policies. The mainstream media is out to weed out any journalist who might be critical of Israel.
That’s why most high profile American Arabs in mainstream media jobs do not publicly speak about the Arab-Israeli conflict. In contrast, most American Jewish and Israeli journalists working for mainstream media frequently speak out and express their opinions criticizing Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians and defending Israel.
The issue isn’t free speech. The issue is “what’s good for Israel”. If you criticize Israel in America, the mainstream media will ignore you, unless they use your comments to portray you in a negative light. The media is prohibited from exploring fundamental issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Helen Thomas was hated by the Israelis because she asked every US president the same question exposing American hypocrisy: “Do you know of any other country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?”
The presidents would hem and haw – imagine, not even an American president wants to tussle with the pro-Israel media. But they all knew the answer: Israel has more than 250 armed nuclear weapons. America can’t acknowledge that because it would expose its foreign policy hypocrisies.
I entered journalism in 1976 after serving two years active duty during the Vietnam War. I had believed that the media was powerful and that Arabs had done a poor job of presenting their views to the American public.
I didn’t realize the truth until I was forced out of my own newspaper job because I had fought with the editors over five articles that I had written about the Palestinian Intifada in 1990 that enraged pro-Israel activists and some members at the newspaper where I worked. The newspaper editor, six months later, fabricated a cause against me and fired me, too.
The bigger problem is how weak American Arabs and American Muslims are. Israel’s hate activists could not get away with these incidents if the response from Arabs wasn’t weak. And it is weak.
The assault on Helen Thomas isn’t just an injustice against a great journalist with a stellar 50-year history. It is an assault against every American Arab, every American Muslim and all of the people of the Arab World.
– Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist. He can be reached at http://www.TheMediaOasis.com or follow him on Twitter @RayHanania
- 2010 Letter to SPJ protesting their political decision to condemn Helen Thomas (rayhanania.com)
- EU’s principled stand on Palestine (rayhanania.com)