Helen Thomas retires amid controversy over Israel remarks
Updated 12:50 p.m.
By Anne E. Kornblut
Veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas announced Monday that she is retiring, effective immediately, in the wake of a controversy over her comments on Israel, according to a report from her employer, Hearst News Service.
Thomas told a rabbi at a White House event last week that Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back to Germany and Poland.
“I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Thomas said in a statement on her Web site. “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’s comments provoked sharp criticism within the close-knit world of White House reporters, and drew a rebuke from the White House podium Monday. With her seat conspicuously empty at the daily briefing, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs assailed Thomas for her words.
“Those remarks were offensive and reprehensible,” Gibbs said, noting that Thomas has apologized. Her sentiments “do not reflect certainly most of the people here and certainly not those of the administration.”
Thomas, 89, who has covered the White House for decades, canceled a speech over the weekend and was dropped by a speakers’ bureau that represented her. The controversy comes at a precarious moment in the Middle East, after an Israeli assault on an aid flotilla that left 11 dead and prompted an international outcry.
The Board of the White House Correspondents Association also issued a statement Monday calling her comment “indefensible.”
The full WHCA statement follows:
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
This post has been updated since it was first published.