Bob looks past Helen Thomas' undignified exit from journalism to her many decades as the thorn in the side of the president.
Artist: by Helios
BOB GARFIELD: Helen Thomas, erstwhile dean of the White House press corps, resigned under pressure this week.
RABBI NESENOFF: Any comments on Israel? We're asking everybody today. Any comments on Israel?
HELEN THOMAS: Tell ‘em to get the hell out of Palestine.
RABBI NESENOFF Ooh!
HELEN THOMAS: [LAUGHS]
RABBI NESENOFF: Any better comments on Israel?
[HELEN THOMAS LAUGHING/OFF-MIKE COMMENT]
HELEN THOMAS: Remember, these people are occupied. And it’s their land. It’s not German, it’s not Poland.
RABBI NESENOFF: So where should they go and what should they do?
HELEN THOMAS: They - go home.
RABBI NESENOFF: Where’s their home?
HELEN THOMAS: Poland.
RABBI NESENOFF: So the Jews can –
HELEN THOMAS: Germany.
RABBI NESENOFF: You’re saying the Jews should go back to Poland and Germany.
HELEN THOMAS: And, and America and everywhere else.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, that’s an ignominious way to end a career, with a callous, stupid sound bite delivered, no less, to a rabbi on the occasion of Jewish Heritage Month. Who knows what motivated Helen Thomas’ remark? Maybe it was her disgust with Israeli policy. Maybe it was hitherto closeted anti-Semitism. Maybe it was old age and the impunity that tends to offer for all manner of geriatric obstreperousness. Or maybe it was Helen Thomas just being - Helen Thomas, to a fault. This program has no opinion on whether this White House press room institution should be consigned to everlasting disgrace, but we do wish to observe that her crankiness helped keep presidents of the United States honest, or at least markedly less regal for 50-some years. Here she is grilling Ronald Reagan.
HELEN THOMAS: The experts say that the Russians are far ahead of us in some nuclear weaponry and we are far ahead of them in terms of the Polaris missile, and so forth. And we also have the capability of swift, massive retaliation against the Soviets. Under those circumstances, why don't we seek negotiations for a freeze now and carry on to reductions? That way we can halt the making of doomsday weapons and save billions to help poor people.
PRESIDENT REAGAN: Helen, I know that there are people that have tried to figure this out. The truth of the matter is, there isn't much of an incentive.
HELEN THOMAS: Well, are you saying that we are vulnerable now, right today, to a nuclear attack that we could not retaliate on?
BOB GARFIELD: Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush - and Obama, she treated them all with perfunctory respect but very little deference. Had her colleagues seen her less as a gadfly and more like a role model, I can think of a number of messes this country might have avoided.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Ms. Thomas.
HELEN THOMAS: Mr. President, you started this war. It’s a war of your choosing. And you can end it alone, today. Don't you understand? We’ve brought the Al-Qaeda into Iraq.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Actually [PAUSE] I was hoping to solve the Iraqi issue diplomatically -