Journalist Helen Thomas
She came from the Lebanese Christian clan that also produced Comedian Danny Thomas. Not that we ever discussed religion over drinks. I remember Helen holding several glasses in her hand.
But the last time I saw the dean of the White House press corps was at an Easter Monday eggroll held under Lyndon B. Johnson. She was with Merriman Smith whom I met in Loew’s Palace Theater office of Carter Barron; now remembered as an amphitheater in Rock Creek Park.
Helen Thomas spooked Merriman out; she had that effect on most males. I remember her intensity. You couldn’t say “Good morning” – without being challenged. She was always working, snooping for clues to what she considered her next subject.
Helen came from a line noted for its stubbornness. She belonged to the Greek Orthodox faith; this was the region’s original Christian church, dating before the Islamic invasion, which came about after the 7th Century. On the other hand, Danny Thomas adhered to the Marianites that have ties with Rome. Both the comedian and journalist remembered their Arabic roots, more her than him.
After 30 years with United Press International, hers was the center seat on the front row at White House briefings. When UPI was taken over by a branch of Unification Church, she resigned; she couldn’t live with the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s journalistic policies, as practiced in The Washington Times.
Helen Thomas found a columnist’s home at Hearst newspapers until an Israeli rabbi asked her about his country. She told him that “Jewish settlers should ‘get the hell out of Palestine’ and go back to ‘Poland, Germany, America and everywhere else.’” She brought down a hailstorm of invectives, including rebukes from the presidential spokesman and the White House Correspondents that she once headed. I remember the Washington atmosphere was so tense. She resigned her Hearst job and wound up writing a column for her local Fairfax paper.
Her list of “women’s journalistic firsts” goes on and on. She badgered the National Press Club, along with AP’s Frances Lewine and The Washington Post’s Elsa Carper (who gave me my first post-Army job), to allow female journalists in and able to ask questions of the invited guests. As noted, the list goes on and on.
I was in the Occupation Army when the King David Hotel in Jerusalem exploded, costing 91 lives – mostly British and Palestinians. The Stars & Stripes newspaper carried other stories about indignities forced on the Middle Eastern population by Jewish extremists. I remember how a British sergeant was found with his testicles sewn up in his mouth.
The English got hit the hardest; London and Washington were staunch World War II allies; more than that, help-mates. I was among those astonished when President Harry S Truman recognized Israel on the first day it existed: May 15, 1948. Helen’s diatribes against the modern Jewish presence in that region found sympathy in my ears. The 1967 sinking of the USS Liberty with 34 Navy victims confirmed it.
Helen Thomas, I’m honored that I knew you. In the end, you looked like a furious Arab grandmother, no different from a Palestinian or anyone from the Middle East whose photo has appeared recently and frequently.
Salaam Aleichem, lady, in your parents’ language.