Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum

There are two things that happen when a show goes off the air. One is you quit and the other is somebody from the network knocks on your door and says, ‘Stop doing this.’
— Carol Burnett, actress, comedian

For veteran journalist Helen Thomas, it was both. Yesterday, Thomas, the first woman to be admitted to the White House press corps, submitted her resignation to Hearst Newspapers — effective immediately. She is vacating her front-row seat in the White House press room where she has been a tireless fixture since the Kennedy administration. Thomas’s offensive remarks about Israel should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go back home to Poland, Germany, America” etc., made the 89-year-old trailblazing journalist of the 20th century the most recent casualty of 21st century news reporting — her story broke on the internet and went viral thanks to a “citizen media” type produced video.

She was dropped by her speakers bureau, dis-invited from giving a high school graduation speech, and her apology landed on the floor:

“I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.”

The Helen Thomas story is being treated like a celebrity death (at least among newsies), complete with obits, flickr albums of the good times, just no body to literally bury. “It was a sad end to a storied career,” said Dana Milbank of The Washington Post. Milbank doesn’t and won’t defend Thomas’ remarks but adds:

…The White House press corps will be diminished without Helen front and center, and not only because she was in that job before the current president was born. She brought a ferocity to her questioning that has eluded too many in subsequent generations. At a time when others were getting cozy with sources, her crabby, unrelenting hostility was refreshing.

Some argue that Pat Buchanan’s ferocity which comes through in consistent racially offensive remarks continues to earn him a prominent pundit spot on MSNBC, CNN and newspapers nationwide. Somehow old school Pat has survived and thrives in the 21st century news world, without the benefit of “teaching moments.”

Meanwhile, Helen Thomas’ front row seat is up for grabs, as well as the criteria for grabbing a prime spot in the press room. Should it be based on seniority? Should commentators or columnists get the front row privileges vs. straight ahead journalists, including on-line journalists? The question is being considered by the White House Correspondents Association:

The incident does revive the issue of whether it is appropriate for an opinion columnist to have a front row seat in the WH briefing room. That is an issue under the jurisdiction of this board. We are actively seeking input from our association members on this important matter, and we have scheduled a special meeting of the WHCA board on Thursday to decide on the seating issue.

Helen Thomas was a past president of the WHCA.

This is when I have to say, “Thank God for fake news.”

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