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Helen Thomas Pays for Crossing a Line Others Trample

By now you’ve heard: pioneering Washington journalist Helen Thomas has, thanks to a viral video interview, been pilloried for offensive comments about Israel and ousted from the press corps’ inner sanctum. Her words were definitely incendiary—Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Europe and America. But the reaction suggests that the Rabbilive ambush was just a catalyst for a gathering storm of political enmity. She was after all, one of the few hard-nosed reporters (and women) in the briefing room who ruthlessly challenged the White House on foreign policy issues.

To George W. Bush’s former press secretary Ari Fleischer, the comments were tantamount to a call for genocide: “She is advocating religious cleansing,” he told Huffington Post. “How can Hearst stand by her? If a journalist, or a columnist, said the same thing about blacks or Hispanics, they would already have lost their jobs.”

Getting fired for bigoted words? Somehow that fate has not befallen the cabal of right-wing bloviators who have literally built their careers pushing the propaganda war against Latinos, other people of color, gay people, liberals and anyone else they disagree with. They’re not journalists in the formal sense, but their frothing tirades, word-for-word, arguably wield more influence over the corporate news cycle. In contrast to Thomas-gate, though, Limbaugh and friends don’t need to be ambushed and exposed by rogue YouTube muckrakers. They’ve spewed their venom to millions daily on television and radio, backed by advertisers, media executives and an audience that happily blinds itself to political hypocrisy.

At HuffPo, some cooler heads have spoken in Thomas's defense while criticizing her remarks, noting a double standard in how Americans talk about who should “get the hell out.” On moral relativism, Paul Jay of Real News argues:

The obvious comparison is asking all European Americans to "get the hell out", and leave the land to its rightful owners, Native Americans. One could argue Mexican Americans might have an argument to stay in certain parts of the country.

The European migration to America isn't such a stretch if one thinks about it. Colonialism makes use of people fleeing religious persecution to populate their new possession . . .

At any rate, we all know what's going on here. The hyper-pro-Israel lobby, in both parties, hasn't much liked the fact that Helen Thomas dares to speak up and question that most sacred of topics, and right from the front row of the White House Press Gallery.

James Zogby of the Arab American Institute puts Thomas's comments in perspective and calls out the right-wingers, embodied in the character assassination of Ari Fleischer, for its far more virulent rhetoric against people of color, gays, and, oops, yes, Jews:

Where was their indignation when Rush Limbaugh was making disgraceful and insulting comments about African Americans, gays, Muslims, and women and then was hosted and toasted at the White House? And did they speak out when Pat Robertson was making bizarre pronouncements connecting the devastation of Katrina or Ariel Sharon's stroke with God's justice? If I thought they understood shame, I would advise them to feel some.

When Dobbs, Beck and company have likened immigration to an illegal invasion of America's god-given dominion, they're just brandishing their patriotism, right? As opposed to the misguided journalists who dare question an actual occupation, perpetuated by the U.S., in another part of the world. Granted, it's hard to tell who's blaming who for what sometimes, as right-wingers tend to employ the same terminology when debating immigration and America's Muslim and Arab adversaries: invaders, terrorists, conquerors, and the occasional fascism reference.

Language is a funny thing. With all her experience in the White House press corps, Thomas should have known what words are off limits. There are some lines you just can't cross in the media... unless you're the one who gets to write the rules.

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Michelle Chen

Michelle Chen is a contributing editor at In These Times. She is a regular contributor to the labor rights blog Working In These Times,, and Pacifica's WBAI. Her work has also appeared in Common Dreams, Alternet, Ms. Magazine, Newsday, and her old zine, cain.

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