A confession: Until Helen Thomas collected her belated gold watch yesterday, I wasn’t even sure who she was working for. Or, rather, “working” for. Her longtime employer, United Press International, doesn’t exist anymore as a wire service. (It’s a website. A pretty thin one, too.) Her wiki bio tells me she quit 10 years ago, after UPI was sold to the Moonies’ media arm, and at the time of her final disgrace this week was employed by Hearst Newspapers. As a columnist.
I had to look a while to find one of her columns; Google is understandably more interested in offering stories about her resignation. But I found one, in the Houston Chronicle. In it, she states that President Obama has a lousy record on press conferences. Here’s a sample:
You are considered a great communicator. So what’s the deal? You are surely well-primed on the issues and headlines of the day. Speeches and well-placed interviews won’t cut it. You should be quizzed.
Ah yes, the familiar “open letter” trope. It seems to have been a favorite:
Get real, Mr. President, cutting Social Security would be a break of trust with the American people.
Millions of Americans cannot live without their Social Security stipends. So don’t tamper with those monthly checks.
As shown by recent polls there is no question Obama has lost some popular ground because he has been making tough decisions — the difference he has found between campaigning and governing.
Some critics have contended that it was a mistake for the president to emphasize health reform instead of jobs creation in view of the nearly 10 percent unemployment rate. Obama now has made jobs the main focus of the administration.
And so on. Now you see the secret of too much Washington punditry, of almost all punditry: State the obvious, bolster with conventional wisdom, restate the obvious, knock off early. I have no idea what Hearst was paying her for this, but I’m sure it wasn’t that much. With Thomas, for both her and her employers, the point was Thomas, period. Her longevity. Her No. 1 seat in the press room. Her cranky questions. The pecking order of the White House press corps. She ended all press conferences by saying, “Thank you, Mr. President,” which was a tradition started by her UPI predecessor. (Yes, she had one.)
I was making my cop-shop rounds when I heard the news about Thomas, via two officers who were watching the story unfold on cable. I sat in the foyer, paging through the file, eavesdropping. One told the other he didn’t see why this was a story at all. “Everybody knows she’s a liberal,” he said, which goes to show what generations of paint-by-numbers Washington analysis gets you: A population that believes the Helen Thomas affair is somehow about, what? Bias? She’s a columnist. A columnist who isn’t biased isn’t worth reading. I’m still not sure why, exactly, she felt the need to retire so abruptly, except that she’s sort of embarrassing. She’s approaching her 90th birthday and apparently has nothing else to do but work. The only personal biographical detail I can find past her Detroit upbringing has her marrying at the age of 51, with widowhood following 11 years later. If you were her age, wouldn’t you like to hang out in the White House press room all day, waiting for the next round of cupcakes? I would.
And now she’s gone. I was struck by the picture of her in this story. I don’t know whether it’s sad or just an unflattering picture taken at an age when that’s the only kind most of us ever take. I think it’s the hair that bothers me, that Ronald Reagan shade of unnatural brown. I guess she’s free to let the gray grow out now. And say whatever she wants.
The race to fill Mark Souder’s congressional seat is getting a little crowded. No fewer than 16 eager Republicans are clamoring to see who can say “we the people,” “values” and “stop the march toward socialism” louder than the next guy. One is a local TV news anchor — yet another member of the liberal media — who has taken a leave of absence to run. But Nance, I can hear you asking. Won’t this taint him and leave him unable to be an unbiased reporter, in much the same manner as Helen Thomas? No, silly. First of all, this is Indiana. Second, he’s only saying things like, “I will be a solid voice for Christian and conservative values in Northeast Indiana,” nothing about Palestine and Jews. And finally, he’s not a journalist at all.
Srsly. His website refers to his work as that of “a public figure.” Ahem:
While working as a public figure, I have fought for the rights of residents. …My work as a public figure allowed me to see how things work in our nation’s capital.
And so on. Well, that’s nice to know. Most of us who work in daily journalism wouldn’t call news anchors colleagues, anyway. It’s nice to see they’re on board with it, too.
Off to the gym, then work. Have a great Tuesday.