Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with superannuated newswoman Helen Thomas believing that the Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and return to Germany and Poland. An if she believes it, there is nothing wrong with her saying so, as she did to a questioning rabbi. It’s good to know. Since we now know her biases on the matter, we can better assess her credibility when she writes about Middle East politics. As Joe Gandleman writes on “The Moderate Voice:
“Just saying “Go back to where you come from” is the same as the misguided, empty-headed Americans who shout “Go back to Africa” to blacks or “Go back to Mexico” to American born Latinos when they know they are American born Latinos. It shows her so hopelessly biased and lacking realistic perspective that stories written by her beg to be skipped over…. on the Middle East story, how can anyone think that when she asks questions she is seeking information to flesh out a story (unless it was a special on airfares so Jews can fly out of Israel)?”
As I said: good to know. What is wrong and dishonest, however, is Thomas’s “apology” after it began to sink in that her candidly expressed and crude bias could be a career-ender. So, emulating that eminent anti-Semite, Mel Gibson, Helen released this:
“I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.”
The statement is solemn, well-stated, and an obvious lie, just like Mel Gibson’s statement back in 2006. Mel, you may recall, was arrested for drunk driving, and exclaimed, among other things, “Fucking Jews! The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world!” After his publicist reminded him that this sentiment was not going to endear him to movie fans, Mel wrote a long apology that maintained,
“…The tenets of what I profess to believe necessitate that I exercise charity and tolerance as a way of life. Every human being is God’s child, and if I wish to honor my God I have to honor his children. But please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot. Hatred of any kind goes against my faith.”
This is what I have dubbed “The Linda Blair Defense”, in honor of the actress who played the demonically possessed young girl in”The Exorcist.” The tactic was also notably used by comedian Michael Richards (of “Seinfeld” fame) after he erupted into a racist rant during a stand-up comedy performance. Richards followed his melt-down with a remorseful statement swearing that he didn’t mean to say any of the hateful words he said, and was at a loss to explain how they came out of him with such evident venom. These are all desperate apologies that improbably disclaim the obvious implications of statements freely made, without any more explanation than “I don’t really believe what I said,” leaving the demonic possession as the sole remaining cause. In other words, the apology is per se unbelievable.
The problem is that people who don’t harbor an anti-Semitic bone in their body literally never spontaneously say “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world!” or “Get the hell out of Palestine!” If Helen Thomas really believes that all parties in the Middle East deserve respect and tolerance, why did she volunteer such an intolerant and disrespectful opinion? She volunteered it because she doesn’t believe that. She does think the Jews should get the hell out of Palestine, and in an unguarded moment, admitted it. She only regrets saying it, like Mel Gibson regretted his outburst, because it threatens her career. So yes, she’s sorry all right. But it’s not an honest apology. Helen’s dishonesty is also worse than Mel’s or Michael’s, because we hold journalists to higher standards of integrity and honesty than we require of actors and comics.
There are some statements you can’t truly apologize for, because you can’t credibly claim you were misunderstood or didn’t mean to say what you did. In South Carolina this week, a political foe of gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, State Sen. Jake Knotts denigrated Haley’s Sikh heritage and President Obama by saying, “We’ve got a raghead in Washington, we don’t need a raghead in the Statehouse.” Knotts apologized, saying the remarks were meant as a joke. Sure it was; and it’s a joke only a bigot would think was funny. Nobody should be fooled, and nobody should be fooled by Thomas. His was a lame apology, but at least he didn’t lie and insult everyone’s intelligence by saying, “That statement does not reflect my absolute respect and support for ethnic diversity, and my abhorrence for racial and ethnic slurs of any kind. But I was possessed by the demon Pazuzu, who seized control of my tongue, and made me say things that are alien to my beliefs.”
Just like Linda Blair, Mel Gibson, and Michael Richards.
And Helen Thomas.
Update, 6/7/10: As with Michael Richards, the Linda Blair Defense didn’t work for Helen, either. Her speakers bureau dropped her, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs condemned her, and the only praise she got for her remarks was from…Hamas. Helen Thomas announced her retirement today, effective immediately.