Commentary Magazine


Barack Obama “Really Excited” by Helen Thomas

In respect of the comment of the Washington columnist for Hearst Newspapers, Helen Thomas, that the Jews of Israel should “go home” to Germany and Poland, there are two points to be made.

The first is that these comments should come as no surprise whatsoever to anyone who has followed Ms. Thomas’s career. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America has a page full of the relevant details; back in 2008 even the Washington Post, not known for being a knee-jerk defender of Israel, was writing of Thomas’s “stridency in criticizing Israel and defending its enemies.” President George W. Bush’s press secretary Tony Snow once described her as offering “the Hezbollah view,” and back in 1991, George H.W. Bush, also not known for being a knee-jerk defender of Israel, had to explain publicly to Ms. Thomas why Iraq was not justified in lobbing scud missiles into Israel.

The second is that, even given Ms. Thomas’s well known status as a virulent critic of Israel and as more of a speechifier than questioner at White House press conferences, President Obama has chosen to call on her at two of his six full-scale press conferences. The only ones who have gotten called on more by Mr. Obama work for either the big five television networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News Channel, and CNN) or the Associated Press or Bloomberg wire services.

At his first presidential press conference, Mr. Obama called on her as follows: “All right, Helen. This is my inaugural moment here. I’m really excited.”

Her question: “Mr. President, do you think that Pakistan are maintaining the safe havens in Afghanistan for these so-called terrorists? And also, do you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?”

At Mr. Obama’s most recent press conference, the president called on her again and she said, “Mr. President, when are you going to get out of Afghanistan? Why are we continuing to kill and die there? What is the real excuse? And don’t give us this Bushism, ‘if we don’t go there, they’ll all come here.’”

At a third press conference, Ms. Thomas had gotten in a question even without being formally called on. Mr. Obama responded, “Hold on a second, Helen.”

You can maybe excuse calling on her at the first press conference on the grounds that Mr. Obama or his press aides wanted to defer to her seniority, to sound a note of continuity with past presidencies, and to elevate the new president’s stature somehow by showing the public that the same woman who once hounded Reagan is now hounding him. But three questions in six press conferences for Helen Thomas? And the president pronouncing himself “really excited”?

It’s enough to make a person wonder whether either the president or some of his close advisers are sympathetic to Ms. Thomas’s views or, at least, think they deserve a more prominent place in the public eye.