Helen Thomas and the limits of free speech

Last Thursday, former White House correspondent Helen Thomas received a standing ovation in Dearborn, where she addressed a group of roughly 300 people, most of whom, I’m told, were non-Arab. Thomas, in addition to criticizing America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, talked about, “the whole question of money involved in politics” – which is to say that she discussed Israel.

“We are owned by propagandists against the Arabs,” said Thomas. “There’s no question about that. Congress, the White House, and Hollywood, Wall Street, are owned by the Zionists. No question in my opinion. They put their money where their mouth is… We’re being pushed into a wrong direction in every way.”

The following day, Wayne State University announced the end of their annual Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award.

Thomas, reached by the Detroit Free Press on Sunday, had the following to say… “The leaders of Wayne State University have made a mockery of the First Amendment and disgraced their understanding of its inherent freedom of speech and the press.”

Thomas, now 90 years old, as you might recall, was encouraged to retire from journalism after being quoted as saying that Israelis should, “get the hell out of Palestine.”

The following clip comes from the Free Press article linked to above:

…Wayne State ended the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award on Friday after she made controversial remarks in Dearborn on Thursday about what she saw as Zionist control of American institutions. The morning after her remarks, the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement by director Abe Foxman that blasted her comments as anti-Semitic and called upon journalism schools and other groups to rescind honors that recognize her. Hours later, Wayne State said it was pulling its award, saying it “strongly condemns the anti-Semitic remarks made by Helen Thomas”…

So, were the folks at Wayne State right, or were they wrong?

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13 Comments

  1. Posted December 7, 2010 at 4:24 am | Permalink

    It just makes me wonder if she has some kind of cognitive impairment now that has caused her to lose the “speech filters” that used to stop her from saying things like that.

    Were the people at Wayne State wrong? Well it wasn’t a journalism award. It was a “spirit of diversity” award–and it doesn’t seem like she’s very pro-diversity.

  2. Knox
    Posted December 7, 2010 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Glenn Beck a few days ago said that 10% of Muslims could probably be classified as terrorists. That to me sounds a lot more racist than Helen Thomas stating the obvious, which is that the Israelis have invested heavily in lobbying the Congress and projecting their point of view. Furthermore she, from what I can tell, has made an effort to keep her comments restricted to the state of Israel. She hasn’t, in other words, said that the “Jews” are evil. To answer your question, Wayne State could have handled it more gracefully by saying that they would look into it. I don’t see what she said as hate speech though.

  3. kjc
    Posted December 7, 2010 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Love Helen Thomas. Wayne State silly.

  4. Posted December 7, 2010 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Not to mention that she considers herself a jew.

  5. Edward
    Posted December 7, 2010 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Wayne State… Diversity, Up Until The Point That It Angers Our Donors

  6. Joanne
    Posted December 7, 2010 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    She does seem off her rocker when in prior years, she was the one who was level headed while being tough and not afraid to ask the tough questions others ignored. But to say that media is biased because it’s owned by Jews is not only a bit racist but really says that she’s becoming as much of a zealot as Beck. Which means she’s a bit off her rocker.

  7. kjc
    Posted December 7, 2010 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Helen Thomas like Glenn Beck? Wow.

  8. Eel
    Posted December 7, 2010 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    You can call the President of this country a socialist traitor who hates democracy, but you can’t question the power which the Israeli lobby has over the US. These are amazing times that we live in.

  9. Bob
    Posted December 7, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    I’m somewhat surprised at the people who have written her off as completely out of her mind, and completely wrong. Even Jack Lessonberry, who was her friend, was ranting on Michiganradio today about how she’s lost her mind. I think she has valid points, even if she could have expressed them less bluntly. Thing is, she’s 90 and has spent most of that time on the front lines of free speech and good reporting. If she doesn’t have the authority to express an unpopular opinion, who does?

  10. Posted December 7, 2010 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Reminds me of the tea baggers who say “liberals” are unamerican for protesting the war. Just because you have a different point of view on a controversial topic doesn’t mean you are racist. It just means you have a different point of view and want to tell people why you believe that way. Is that so wrong?

  11. Peter Larson
    Posted December 7, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    There’s a huge difference between Jewish people and the batshit members of the Israeli government. I think this is lost on a lot of people.

  12. Posted December 7, 2010 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Pete. It all begins with those damn british sphere’s of influence. Start with the Balfour Declaration and work your way to the present kids. I think Helen is simply fed up and feels she has nothing to lose now. She’s been around long enough now to nearly see the whole thing unfold.

  13. Bob
    Posted December 7, 2010 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    The lost story today behind the sad Elizabeth Edwards passing and the Presidents wussified cave in (the latest), is that we seem to be dropping our pressure to make Israel stopping building on the West Bank.

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