I had the pleasure of meeting Helen Thomas years ago, when she visited OU for some journalism event. While she was in town, she made a point to stop at the offices of The Post to talk with newspaper kids for a while.
We were, understandably, in awe. This would have been 1993 or so, when she had already been a White House correspondent for almost 35 years. That was remarkable in and of itself; the fact that she had reached that milestone as a woman made it even more remarkable.
At that point, Thomas’ reputation was untouchable. She was tough on the men who occupied the Oval Office, but she was also fair; she pestered Kennedy and Clinton just as she did Nixon and Reagan.
But that started to unravel when she covered George W. Bush, a president for whom she had open contempt. When she was called on during presidential news conferences — not an automatic thing as had been the tradition for years, after she stated publicly that she was covering the “worst president in history” — her “questions” more closely resembled statements about what the administration was doing wrong.
She was out of line then. Her comments about Israel — the ones that forced her resignation from Hearst a few days ago — were as well. I don’t care that her family is Lebanese, and I don’t know to what degree that history had in coloring her opinions; as a journalist, she should keep those opinions to herself — and she knows it.
I hate what journalism is becoming. It’s especially evident on television — although it exists in print as well — we’re sliding away from reporting in favor of punditry. We can’t seem to report the news without offering a side order of opinion alongside. Fox, CNN and MSNBC are all littered with people who call themselves journalists but who don’t do anything other than tell us what we should think about an event instead of just telling us about the even itself. There’s a huge difference between punditry and reporting, but I fear that distinction is being lost.
Whether Thomas forgot about the difference or she just didn’t give a damn anymore doesn’t really matter to me. It’s not an exaggeration to say she was a giant in my profession; it’s equally accurate to say I am profoundly disappointed that she ended her distinguished career the way she did.