Helen Thomas Should Have Quit Sooner

If there is any lesson here, it's about going out on top. Take your victory laps while you can, before they have to help you off the track.

By + More

By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

I don't know what the rabbi thought she would say when he stuck the video camera in the face of an 89-year-old Arab-American lady and asked her what she thought about Israel. It is not the first place I would go to get a testimonial about Israeli pluck and virtue.

Old age deteriorates mental powers. In Western culture, since long before Shakespeare, old folks are portrayed as daffy for good reason, and for no fault of their own. The vessels bringing oxygen to the brain shrivel. Brain cells die. Codgers blurt out crazy things. And Helen Thomas did.

But to post her remarks on the Internet? Well, there was only one reason to do that, and it had its intended effect. Thomas was called vile and reprehensible, and pushed into retirement. And now both sides in this 60-year-old conflict, Arabs and Jews, can spend the week saying "See! They hate us!" God forbid we should let the wounds heal, not when we can tear at the scar tissue and rip off the scabs and start the bleeding again.

Of course, Thomas should have known better. She was a smart, tough, brave reporter for many years. Former Rep. Patricia Schroeder once summed up official Washington, as it was when she came to Congress in the 1970s, as the "Planet of the Guys." That's the city Thomas faced, and she shattered many barriers against women in her profession. But she hung around too long. She should have retired but wanted, I suspect, to keep doing her life's work and die at the keyboard, instead of in some home for the aged. You can't blame her, but if there is any lesson here, it's about going out on top. Take your victory laps while you can, before they have to help you off the track.

The world has been graced by Jewish intellectualism. So has American journalism. Thomas, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, was a rare reporter of Arab descent and perspective. She showed her skepticism about U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East over the years, especially as she got older, and crotchety, and wrote as a columnist, not a reporter.

Perhaps, given her career-ending remarks that Israelis should "get the hell out of Palestine" and go home to America--or to Poland and Germany, two lands renowned for their histories of persecuting Jews--she has harbored uglier feelings that she kept from the public, as the code of her profession required. Or maybe not. Maybe she was just being old.

  • Check out this month's best political cartoons.
  • Follow the money in Congress.
  • Become a political insider: Subscribe to U.S. News Weekly, our digital magazine.