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Turn about fair play for White House correspondent?

June 16, 2010 | 07:54 AM
Dwight Eisenhower was the first president Helen Thomas grilled. Barrack Obama was the last.

Her retirement after 50 years as a White House reporter should have come after her last question at a presidential news conference. Instead, her legacy will always be tainted by her last words, not a president's.

Like so many of the politicians she'd covered, the press caught her in a gotcha moment last week. Her comments about Israelites needing to "get the hell out of Palestine" were unfortunate and politically incorrect.

On the other hand it's also unfortunate that we live at a time when sound bites count more than research and civil discussion, when a slip of the tongue can end a career.

True, politicians should know better and so should journalists. Thomas, especially, should know not to say something controversial to a newsperson. Still, we forget all the stupid things we'd be stuck with if someone stuck a microphone in our face 24-7.

All too often our judgment of others is colored by our own biases. George Bush can be harangued for saying "bring it on" while Obama gets applause for saying he's going to kick someone's ass. Articulate presidents like Obama and Ronald Reagan get a pass, while the Bushes have books filled with their ill-chosen words.

And today when we judge an entirety of a person by a few words, we forget all the things we've said but really didn't mean — at least not in the way they came out. Today, when confrontation trumps conversation in politics, there are few second chances to qualify what you said.

Nonetheless it does seem poetic justice that Thomas, who'd wounded so many presidents using their words, was destroyed by her own.

Her statements about Israelis seemed brazen, as though she was given a blank check to say whatever she wanted just because she was Helen Thomas. Sadly, over the years, the 89-year-old Thomas may have become more of an icon and less of a reporter. When she grilled Richard Nixon, we called it good journalism. But, at her last news conference two weeks ago, I felt her questioning was shrill and knee-jerk.

Listening to it, I was reminded of the waning years of Harry Truman, one of my heroes. For much of his life, Truman epitomized both candor and self-deprecation.

They called him "Give 'em hell Harry," but his celebrity never went to his head. He knew the names and stories of those who worked in the White House kitchen as well as he knew the names and stories of world leaders. When he left the presidency he went back to his humble home, and walked to work.

But as the years went on, his bold statements became more mean-spirited, less humble; his facts were biased by wishful thinking.

Maybe like Harry Truman, Helen Thomas, the creator of so many press clippings had started to believe her own.

Halverson is the general

manager of the Regional News.

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