The quickly-enacted retirement of White House correspondent Helen Thomas is definitely sad; I know that for sure. What I’m still working over, however, is whether it’s sad that the career of a prominent journalist has ended or that what good she had brought the media is tarnished by her latter years on the job.
There’s no doubt that it’s sad the 89-year-old Thomas, with half a decade of experience at the White House, is ending her career shortly after making remarks that can be construed as racially disparaging. Those words arguably should never have been said in public; especially to a group wearing yamulkes. Sure, she’s free as all of us are to have opinions, but journalists should know better the power of words and where they are said.
Or should we? Why was it that Thomas, who spent her whole life performing the job of an observant spectator, was in front of a camera in the first place? There are columns and blogs for a journalist to give his or her opinion, but to be sought out in such a way shouldn’t happen. That’s making the news, not reporting it, and the effects are rarely beneficial, as Thomas now knows all too well.
It seems that, while Thomas definitely earned her high status among the White House press, it gradually turned her into more of an icon than a more elite journalist. She became punchlines and focuses of skits — even at the White House’s own correspondence dinners — and her questions gained more of an opinionated edge as though she was seeing herself as a figurehead for something.
Some have argued that Thomas should be given a break because her “brain filters” might not work as well as they did in her younger days and that she didn’t think well enough before speaking. If that is the case, though, why was it perfectly fine for her to continue holding on to a crucial political media position? Why did she seem willing to remain in her seat with the press corps even past 90? I don’t wish to travel too far into conjecture — perhaps she simply loved her job that much — but I have creeping worries of reasons that are much too subjective for journalists to have.
Whatever the truth is, it is still sad to see Helen Thomas’s career end this way.