Nader: Helen Thomas apologized – she was attacked with such ferocity because she always asked ‘why’
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. It was only about a week ago Helen Thomas retired, I think obviously under pressure after some comments she made when what we’re told is a rabbi put a camera in front of her face, asked her what she thought of Israel. And I think everybody by now has seen the comments. If you haven’t, you can find them on our site. Now joining us to discuss this affair is Ralph Nader. Thanks for joining us.
RALPH NADER, AUTHOR, POLITICAL ACTIVIST: Thanks, Paul.
JAY: So what’s your take on what happened?
NADER: She should be reinstated. She’s a courageous journalist. She came here in 1942, blazed the way for women like no one did—the first president of the Correspondents’ Association of White House correspondents, the head of the Gridiron Dinner. She demanded that all these doors that were closed to females be opened up, and she was the courageous pioneer. She also set a standard for journalism, asking the tough questions on the minds of most Americans that the weak-kneed White House press corps would never ask, like to Bush, why did you invade Iraq? A million people have died. Et cetera. She would ask questions that started with why, and that’s almost a taboo in the White House press corps. You know, you ask softball questions, but you don’t ask questions about violating international law, violating our constitution, violating our statutes, questions dealing with torture, with surveillance of Americans without a court review. And she also asked questions about the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Now, she’s sitting on a bench in the White House during Jewish Heritage Week, and a rabbi comes up, and he said, hi, Helen; what do you think about journalism? She said, I think it’s a great profession; you can’t lose; young people should go into it; let everybody learn it. He said, what do you think about Israel? She said, well, they should get out of Palestine. And hardly a controversial statement. You know, I mean, the UN resolutions say they should get out of the West Bank and Gaza, 242 and so on. And then he asks her, well, what would they do? And that’s when she said something which I don’t think she believes. She apologized right away. She said something that basically was an offhand comment. Like, a lot of people make an offhand comment. You know how many people—and we’ve all heard the Washington press corps privately (she didn’t do this as part of her job; just an offhand comment) say bad things about Arabs. Anti-Semitism against Arabs is rife in politics today, not just talk radio. I mean, you’ve got [Michael] Savage, you’ve got [Sean] Hannity, you’ve got [Rush] Limbaugh. I mean, the things they say about Muslims and Muslim Americans—. And how about Ann Coulter? She didn’t lose a $30,000 speech, she didn’t lose any gig, she didn’t lose her column, and she said horrific things about going over there and slaughtering Muslims if they can’t be converted to Christianity—she added that point. So, I mean, one mistake like that—which she apologized for—and they terminated her column, they terminated her career. They’re going to replace her in the White House press corps. It’s like a professional execution. And now the polls, I’m told, are highly in favor of her coming back.
JAY: Yeah, there was a Washington Post poll yesterday which showed 88 percent of the people were opposed to her removal from the White House press corps. She asked something specific. I mean, this is what people say [inaudible] some people have called her anti-Semitic and all of this, and that’s the idea that where should they go, and she said they should go back to Germany, they should go back to Poland, they can go back to America. Now, most of the critique forget that she said go back to America.
NADER: And elsewhere.
JAY: And elsewhere. And they don’t talk about the fact that Poland was an antifascist population on the whole. Of course there was anti-Semitism there, but the Polish people fought the German invasion, and amongst those Polish people fighting were Jews alongside non-Jews. So that doesn’t get talked about. But the whole—I mean, people know, a lot of people watching The Real News know I wrote a piece about this, so they know where I’m coming from on this, which was called “In defense of Helen Thomas,” if you didn’t see it, so you can at least know where I stood on it. But I think one of the points that’s being missed here is that what she said—whether a lot of people disagree with it and think people are there and they’re there and they have to sort it out, but she said it’s not so outrageous that there should have been an atmosphere of lynching here. One could discuss that the same way one could discuss should Europeans get the hell out of North America. So talk a bit about the atmosphere.
NADER: Well, I mean, I’m sure she regrets the way she phrased it. But, I think, in back of her mind she sees the White House not condemning the kidnapping of the ship, the Turkish ship, not condemning nine dead, six missing; she sees what’s happening to the people of Gaza—open-air prison, anemia, serious anemia with 40 percent of the kids there, the blockade, and the siege; I mean, she sees all these things, going back to the navel ship the Liberty and a White House just rubber-stamping the Israeli version of it, keep selling or giving weapons that are used against the Palestinians. She’s of Arab origin, for heaven’s sake. I mean, just put the shoe on the other foot. Like, you have Jewish-American reporters, where a massive Arab power is pummeling and slaughtering and occupying the lands of the Jews, they would do a lot more than a casual comment, sitting on a bench, you know, at the White House. There’s no proportionality here. The agenda is there are people in this town (like Ari Fleischer and Lanny Davis, who were the two ring leaders to try to get her out), they have been waiting to get her out of there. She asked controversial questions about the Israeli-Palestine issue.
JAY: But the White House press corps, it seems on the whole, turned on her very quickly and very easily.
NADER: She shows them up. Even though they know her and they like her personally, she shows them up. When she says to president Obama, do you know a country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons, in the back of their mind they say, that’s a pretty important question to ask, given Iran, given the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Israel does not belong to, so it doesn’t have to be inspected by the arm of the United Nations. And they’re saying, you know, that is an important question, and I’m afraid to ask it. That’s what they’re saying, because the White House press corps is selected for people who want to get along by going along, who don’t want to embarrass the president on behalf of the big media moguls.
JAY: Because if you do, you’ll never get to ask a question, which is what happens to Helen. She almost never gets to ask a question anymore.
NADER: Yeah. That’s the daily restraint. But the big restraint is that these giant media companies do not want to alienate the White House. They’ve got all kinds of fish to fry in the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] and everything else. I once asked Brit Hume, who was on the Sunday talk shows—he was the host a few times for ABC. And I said, why do you all ask such softball questions to these senators, these people from the White House? He said, don’t you understand? He said this is the networks’ way of giving the politicians a platform, because they don’t want to alienate them. They want other things from the government. So they give them a platform to say their thing—secretary of defense, Cheney, you know, Hillary Clinton, all these people. It was quite an eye-opening admission by him, because nobody could be as dumb as the Washington press corps asking those questions. I mean, 11-year-olds replacing the White House press corps would ask much tougher questions of both presidents and press secretaries. So she shows them up in that way. You know, she asked direct questions. They were short questions. They go right to the core of the issue. Why are you doing this? Why aren’t you doing that? And most of the reporters don’t ask that, and if they do they’re out.
JAY: Thanks for joining us. Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.