Helen Thomas, a woman reporter who covered 10 presidents over five decades, died yesterday at 92. The fulsome yet ginger praise attending on her death is not what I have in mind by mentioning it ... the oh-boy-I-liked-her-values-and-want-you-to-imagine-that-therefore-I-have-shiny-values-too sycophancy.
In the wish-I'd-done-that department, there was Thomas' question to George W. Bush, the man Thomas considered "the worst president in all American history." Her question: "Your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of
Americans and Iraqis. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned
out not to be true. My question is: Why did you really want to go to
war?" Even those reporting on the question later managed to truncate her words, to segue into commentary that implicitly depicted Thomas as a batty aunt you couldn't not-invite to the party. Thomas had dared to fly into a fire that other reporters might admire from a 'thoughtful' distance, but the blue and immolating heat was too much for them.
was unrepentant and perhaps delighted a bit too much in her
unwillingness to repent. She made no secret of her disdain for the
shot-cuff press corps that pimped for political agendas, the Downton
Abbey establishment that had an ever-lengthening list of excuses for not
serving the democracy of the country. Their refrain: "If we ask the
hard questions, our sources will cut us off from access to information
and we won't be able to do our jobs." It is not quite as corrupt as the
Chinese view of media as a tool of agitation and propaganda ... or maybe
it is, but it is ever so much smoother, more reasonable, more
self-serving. Joseph Goebbels was a Cub Scout by comparison.
own liberal, whirling-dervish mouth got her into trouble when she suggested
that Israeli Jews just get out of Palestine and return to Germany, Poland
or the United States, places, she implied, where Jews were more rightfully
"at home." The Downton Abbey constituency bared its usually-concealed
fangs on that one -- and Thomas 'quit' her job as a Hearst columnist.
much liked Thomas' work. I didn't dislike it, but I wouldn't seek it out as I
might seek out the offerings of Molly Ivins, a hard-nosed
columnist who did her homework and only then suggested there was something
lunatic in the works. I never got the sense that Molly Ivins would sell her
tale as a means of elevating her own stock or that she would name the assholes
without seriously considering that they might not be assholes. Not that Thomas
struck me as another self-promoting blogger-turned-White-House-shill. I just
didn't cotton as much to her stuff.
I have no
doubt that Helen Thomas did some wonderful things. But the thing that impresses
me is not what her body of work says about her -- it's what her approach and
body of work says about the rest of us.
or not, I think the Internet is bringing the shot-cuff, Downton Abbey, agitprop
approach to news to its knees. Sound bites and pancake make-up and vast income
masquerading as news-gathering is being challenged. It may be hard to ferret
out the facts (a job once alleged by news organizations), but the opportunity
exists, however confounding it may be. Asking ALL of
the questions is what the housewife in Detroit does.