Howard Kurtz catches up with the conservative blogosphere today, observing of Helen Thomas:
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that she was a member in good standing of a tightly knit club that refused to question why a woman whose main job seemed to be to harangue press secretaries and presidents deserved a front-row seat in the briefing room . … Journalists, especially those who spend a great deal of time together, don’t usually turn on each other. If Thomas was spewing bias and bile, the reasoning went, what was the harm?
All that is true, but there is more to it than that. If the subject of her venom were African-Americans or Hispanics or gays, she would have been booted long ago. Kurtz notes:
Since Thomas was a columnist, she had every right to her opinions — even if her view was that Jews should be banished from Israel. But she didn’t have a perpetual right to a newspaper column or a White House pressroom seat. Hearst bears some responsibility for keeping Thomas on as her behavior grew more disturbing. It’s not that a pro-Israel press corps drove her out; it’s that Thomas could not defend her remarks, and indeed apologized for them.
Actually, it is that Hearst and Thomas’s colleagues had a high threshold for anti-Semitism that allowed her, as Kurtz puts it, to be “regarded her as one of Washington’s harmless gadflies.” For all the diversity-training and political correctness spread throughout the professional class, the attention on hateful speech and bias has focused almost exclusively on race and ethnicity. As a result, racial bigots and those who peddle in ethnic slurs are barred from “polite society.” But take a swipe at evangelical Christians or voice noxious views on Jews? Well, many would cheer the former and simply roll their eyes at the latter.
Kurtz is right that the media bears responsibility for tolerating Thomas. But it’s worth considering more broadly why elites are so indifferent to religious bigotry.