Helen Thomas Quits White House Correspondent Position After Outrage for Anti-Semitism Remarks

AP
President Obama shared birthday cake with Helen Thomas on August 9, 2009. The day is the birthday for both — Obama turned 48, Thomas turned 89.

THE HEADLINES….

  • Helen Thomas quits: Helen Thomas quit her job with Hearst in the wake of mounting outrage over her assertion that Israeli Jews should “return” to Poland, Germany and the United States.
    “Helen Thomas announced Monday that she is retiring, effective immediately,” said a statement issued Monday by the Hearst Corp. “Her decision came after her controversial comments about Israel and the Palestinians were captured on videotape and widely disseminated on the Internet.” – JTA, 6-7-10
  • Helen Thomas retires in flap over Israel remarks: Longtime Washington journalist Helen Thomas abruptly retired Monday as a columnist for Hearst News Service following remarks she made about Israel that were denounced by the White House and her press corps colleagues. AP, 6-7-10
  • Helen Thomas ends 5-decade career in controversy: After more than 50 years covering the White House, journalist Helen Thomas announced Monday that she is retiring immediately from Hearst Newspapers, amid controversy over remarks she recently made about Israel.
    Hearst News Service broke the news Monday, noting that Thomas’ “decision came after her controversial comments about Israel and the Palestinians were captured on videotape and widely disseminated on the Internet.”… – AP, 6-7-10
  • Rabbi sat on Thomas scoop as webmaster-son took exams: When veteran journalist Helen Thomas made inflammatory remarks about Israel, the comments weren’t captured by a major news organization. Instead, a rabbi and his 17-year-old son broke the story.
    Right now, Rabbi David Nesenoff is drawing lots of new visitors to RabbiLive.com and its video of the dean of the White House press corps (now abruptly retired) telling Israel to “get the hell out of Palestine.” Although Nesenoff’s site is getting buzz and media pickup, the rabbi actually sat on the big scoop for a week.
    On May 27, Nesenoff attended the Jewish American Heritage Month celebration at the White House with son Adam and a friend of Adam’s. While walking across the front lawn Nesenhoff and the boys saw Thomas, and decided to ask her about her thoughts on Israel…. – AP, 6-7-10
  • Helen Thomas retires: Veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas announced Monday that she is retiring, effective immediately, in the wake of a controversy over her comments on Israel, according to a report from her employer, Hearst News Service.
    Thomas told a rabbi at a White House event last week that Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back to Germany and Poland.
    “I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Thomas said in a statement on her Web site. “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.” WaPo, 6-7-10
  • White House press secretary Robert Gibbs assailed Thomas for her words: “Those remarks were offensive and reprehensible,” Gibbs said, noting that Thomas has apologized. Her sentiments “do not reflect certainly most of the people here and certainly not those of the administration.” –
  • The Board of the White House Correspondents Association statement follows:
    Helen Thomas’ comments were indefensible and the White House Correspondents Association board firmly dissociates itself from them. Many in our profession who have known Helen for years were saddened by the comments, which were especially unfortunate in light of her role as a trail blazer on the White House beat.
    While Helen has not been a member of the WHCA for many years, her special status in the briefing room has helped solidify her as the dean of the White House press corps so we feel the need to speak out strongly on this matter.
    We want to emphasize that the role of the WHCA is to represent the White House press corps in its dealings with the White House on coverage-related issues. We do not police the speech of our members or colleagues. We are not involved at all in issuing White House credentials, that is the purview of the White House itself.
    But the incident does revive the issue of whether it is appropriate for an opinion columnist to have a front row seat in the WH briefing room. That is an issue under the jurisdiction of this board. We are actively seeking input from our association members on this important matter, and we have scheduled a special meeting of the WHCA board on Thursday to decide on the seating issue.
    Ed Chen, Bloomberg
    David Jackson, USA Today
    Caren Bohan, Reuters
    Ed Henry, CNN
    Julie Mason, DC Examiner
    Don Gonyea, National Public Radio
    Steve Scully, C-SPAN
    Doug Mills, The New York Times
  • White House correspondent apologizes for Israel remarks: Thomas, 89, the longest-serving reporter in the White House press corps, was asked by the website RabbiLive.com during a May 27 “Jewish Heritage Celebration” at the White House whether she had any “comments on Israel.”
    “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine,” said Thomas, who served for decades as the White House correspondent for United Press International (UPI) and now writes a column for Hearst newspapers.
    “Remember these people are occupied and it’s their land, not German and not Poland,” Thomas said. “They can go home, Poland, Germany, and America and everywhere else.” AFP, 6-7-10
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June 7, 2010: Obama, Clinton, Issa & the Sestak & Romanoff Job Offers

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor / Features Editor at HNN. She has a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & 111TH CONGRESS:

IN FOCUS

  • White House admits job offer to Sestak to clear Senate for Specter: President Barack Obama’s embarrassed White House acknowledged Friday it had enlisted Bill Clinton to try to ease Rep. Joe Sestak out of Pennsylvania’s Senate primary with a job offer. For Obama, the revelations called into question his repeated promises to run an open government that was above backroom deals. Sestak stayed in the race and eventually defeated Specter to become the Democratic nominee, ending Specter’s 30-year Senate tenure. – Detroit News wire services

THE HEADLINES….

  • Obama under fire for election tactics with Sestak, Romanoff: The White House on Thursday dismissed charges that President Obama’s top aides have breached his pledge to run the most ethical and open administration in history by trying to entice Democrats in Pennsylvania and Colorado to skip races against favored incumbents. Some Republicans, including House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, are demanding an independent investigation of what they call inappropriately heavy-handed politics…. – USA Today, 6-4-10
  • California Rep. Darrell Issa takes on role as Obama’s chief antagonist: Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the man who radically changed California politics by helping fund the 2003 recall effort that lead to the removal of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and the election of fellow Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, has become one of President Obama’s chief antagonists. From his perch as the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Issa has spent the last 15 months constantly blasting the Obama administration on nearly every controversy and calling for countless investigations that the Democratic-controlled committee refuses to order. But Issa is finally starting to hit some of his targets. He was one of the leading Republicans in pushing the White House to reveal more details about its discussions to persuade Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) to forgo a Senate primary run against Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) in return for a possible government job. Sestak won the primary, and now another Senate candidate challenging an incumbent Democrat, Andrew Romanoff in Colorado, has acknowledged having similar discussions with White House officials. Issa has suggested the White House violated the law and may have offered Sestak “a bribe” in the process, assertions that have not been proved…. – WaPo, 6-4-10
  • Obama under fire for election tactics with Sestak, Romanoff: The White House on Thursday dismissed charges that President Obama’s top aides have breached his pledge to run the most ethical and open administration in history by trying to entice Democrats in Pennsylvania and Colorado to skip races against favored incumbents.
    Some Republicans, including House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, are demanding an independent investigation of what they call inappropriately heavy-handed politics.
    Press secretary Robert Gibbs countered that the White House has every right to try to avert expensive and divisive intraparty primaries between Democrats, something it did by encouraging potential candidates to consider other options, including government jobs or appointments.
    “The president has an interest in ensuring that supporters don’t run against each other in contested primaries,” Gibbs said…. – USA Today, 6-3-10
  • White House: President Obama was unaware aides floated job offers to Andrew Romanoff: Hammered by accusations of playing politics, the White House claimed Thursday President Obama was unaware aides floated job offers to get a second lawmaker to quit a Senate race. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs denied the White House had engaged in any wrongdoing or secret back-room deals, contending the administration has not hidden the fact it doesn’t like Democratic Party primaries. “I do believe we’ve been transparent,” he said. But Gibbs sidestepped and evaded repeated questions on details of the contacts…. – NY Daily News, 6-4-10
  • White House defends using job prospect to sway Romanoff to quit Colorado Senate race: White House officials Thursday defended their effort to use a job prospect in the administration to entice Democrat Andrew Romanoff out of the Senate race in Colorado last September, while trying to recast Romanoff’s version of events, pointing out that he came to them looking for employment, albeit 10 months earlier…. – Denver Post, 6-4-10
  • LBJ and Sestak/Romanoff: Obama’s defenders have fastened on a case where LBJ’s White House offered a job to Congressman Joe Kilgore to get him out of a senate primary against Sen. Ralph Yarborough. Fair enough. This shows that this kind of horse-trading has a long pedigree. It’s also a sign of what’s become of Obama’s promises of a new kind of politics that his supporters are running back to LBJ for precedent. Here’s an interesting passage in one of the conversations between Kilgore and LBJ aide Walter Jenkins that shows they didn’t consider such a deal entirely appropriate, even back then: National Review, 6-4-10
  • Assessing the political fallout of the Andrew Romanoff revelationWaPo, 6-3-10
  • Sestak Job Offer Grounds for Impeachment?: SEAN HANNITY, HOST: There is big breaking news tonight in the Joe Sestak affair that has gripped Washington all week. And after months of questions, denials and finger-pointing the White House version of events basically comes down to this: Bill Clinton did it.
    Now White House counsel Bob Bauer who is married to former White House communications spin doctor Anita Dunn released a report this morning detailing what happened. Now it reads in part, quote, “Efforts were made in June and July of 2009 to determine whether Congressman Sestak would be interested in service on a presidential or other senior executive branch advisory board which would avoid a divisive Senate primary, allow him to retain his seat in the House, and provide him with opportunity for additional service to the public in a high-level advisory capacity for which he was highly qualified. The advisory position discussed with Congressman Sestak, while important to the work of the administration, would have been uncompensated. White house Staff did not discuss these options with Congressman Sestak. The White House chief of staff enlisted the support of former President Clinton who agreed to raise with Congressman Sestak options of service on a presidential or other senior executive branch advisory board. Congressman Sestak declined the suggested alternatives, remaining committed to his Senate candidacy.”… – Fox News, 6-1-10
  • Clinton-Sestak-White House Connection: Was There a Crime?Fox News, 5-29-10
  • Clinton’s Role in Sestak Controversy Stirs Questions About His and White House Motives: Like an aging sports star who can’t stay away from the game, Bill Clinton’s direct role in the firestorm over President Obama’s job offer to a lawmaker for a political favor has raised questions about whether the former president was used and abused by a cynical administration or whether he took advantage of the White House to burnish his legacy…. “It’s very clear that President Clinton doesn’t want to leave politics but more importantly that the White House wanted some sort of plausible deniability,” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who is calling for an FBI investigation, told Fox News on Friday. Issa added that President Nixon had deniability from the plumbers in the Watergate scandal that ultimately brought down his presidency until he became part of the coverup. “At this point, 10 weeks later, lots of witness tampering, or at least witness interrogation by people who are self serving, we’re beginning to go down that same road,” he said. “It’s now time for the president to say enough is enough, I promised to have higher integrity and that will include having someone on the outside tell us what we did right or wrong.”… – Fox News, 5-29-10
  • Sestak Case Puts Rahm Emanuel’s Backroom Politics Back in Spotlight: The White House official behind the controversial offer to Rep. Joe Sestak is no stranger to hard-nosed political horse trading. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who enlisted the help of his former boss Bill Clinton to approach a congressman about sitting out a Senate primary race, has been involved in several political controversies during his 20-year-plus career in Washington. And the current controversy is only the latest for Emanuel in the past 16 months, since he joined the Obama administration…. – Fox News, 5-29-10
  • Joe Sestak job offer? White House says it did nothing wrong: The GOP isn’t buying the White House assertion that it offered Rep. Joe Sestak only an unpaid position on an advisory board if he’d drop his effort to unseat Pennsylvania’s Sen. Arlen Specter.
    After months of speculation, the White House has released an explanation of its effort to lure Rep. Joe Sestak (D) of Pennsylvania away from running for the US Senate. The two-page memo from White House counsel Robert Bauer, issued Friday, states that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had enlisted former President Bill Clinton to approach Congressman Sestak last summer to discuss the possibility of unpaid service on a presidential advisory board, while retaining his seat in the House… – In his own statement, Sestak laid out the same scenario. “I said no,” he said of the advisory board offer. CS Monitor, 5-28-10
  • Bill Clinton has evolved into Obama’s Mr. Fix-It Network News: After Barack Obama won the White House, he and his aides wrestled for weeks over what to do about Bill Clinton if his wife joined the administration. They worried that the irrepressible former president might overshadow Hillary Rodham Clinton, or even Obama himself. That didn’t happen. Now, 18 months later, he has become indispensable in a way the new president probably did not anticipate. Clinton has become the “Michael Clayton” of the Obama White House, a roving, always on-call fixer who lends his political skills to help Obama and the Democrats in tough situations. Clinton is campaigning and raising money in places where Obama is less (or less than) welcome. And, as was revealed Friday, he has been an intermediary on sensitive, off-the-grid conversations with candidates such as Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), whom he tried — on behalf of the White House — to talk out of running for the Senate…. – WaP, 5-28-10
  • White House Used Bill Clinton to Ask Sestak to Drop Out of Race: President Obama’s chief of staff used former President Bill Clinton as an intermediary to see if Representative Joe Sestak would drop out of a Senate primary if given a prominent, but unpaid, advisory position, people briefed on the matter said Friday.
    Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, asked Mr. Clinton to explore the possibilities last summer, accordingto the briefed individuals, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the politically charged situation. Mr. Sestak said no and went on to win last week’s Pennsylvania Democratic primary against Senator Arlen Specter. NYT, 5-28-10
  • Obama Promises Response on Question of Job Offer: President Obama refused to say Thursday whether his White House offered a job to Representative Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania to drop out of a Democratic primary but promised that the administration would respond soon. “There will be an official response shortly on the Sestak issue, which I hope will answer your questions,” Mr. Obama told reporters at a White House news conference. “I can assure the public that nothing improper took place.” – NYT, 5-27-10
  • Sestak says his brother, White House met about alleged job offer: Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) said Thursday his brother has spoken with White House officials about the congressman’s allegation that he was offered an Obama administration job if he would stay out of a Democratic Senate primary… He told reporters Thursday that he would not expand upon his prior statements until the White House releases its report on the matter. President Obama said in his news conference such a report would come “shortly.” Richard Sestak, who has served as his brother’s top political adviser and campaign lawyer, spoke with administration officials Wednesday, Joe Sestak said.
    “They got ahold of my brother on his cellphone, and he spoke to the White House . . . about what’s going to occur,” said Sestak, who said he expects the White House will release its information Friday. He declined to elaborate on his discussions with his brother…. – WaPo, 5-27-10
  • Dig into alleged Joe Sestak job offer, GOP tells Justice Department: The White House backed Rep. Joe Sestak’s opponent in the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania. The GOP wants to know whether it offered Mr. Sestak a job to drop out of the race.
    “The allegations in this matter are very serious and, if true, suggest a violation of various criminal laws intended to safeguard our political process from the taint of bribes and political machine manipulation,” said Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee in a Wednesday letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.
    Those who signed the letter include Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Charles Grassley of Iowa, Jon Kyl of Arizona, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas, and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma…. – CS Monitor, 5-26-10
  • Did the White House offer Joe Sestak a job?: Rep. Joe Sestak is in a tough primary race against Obama-backed Senator Arlen Specter. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs for the first time responded to questions about whether the White House offered Sestak a post to lure him out of the race…. – CS Monitor, 3-16-10

POLITICAL QUOTES

  • Andrew Romanoff Breaks Silence on White House Job Talks: On Friday’s Washington Unplugged, Bob Schieffer, moderator of CBS’ “Face the Nation,” spoke with Andrew Romanoff, the latest Senate candidate to acknowledge that he was contacted by the White House for discussions about various administration positions should he drop out of his primary race.
    Sestak: “I Stood Up to My Party”
    Romanoff said he “received a call from (White House Deputy Chief of Staff) Jim Messina. He informed me that the White House would support my opponent, Sen. (Michael) Bennet. I told Mr. Messina that I had decided to run for the Senate nonetheless. He told me three positions might be available to me were I not pursuing the Senate race and e-mailed me descriptions of the positions. I told him that I would not change course. That’s the last time I had any communication on this matter with Mr. Messina or anyone else in the White House.”
    “A number of folks have done their best to keep me from running for the Senate and similar efforts to prevent primaries that took place in Pennsylvania,” said Romanoff. “Those efforts did not have any effect on me.”
    Romanoff added, “The White House’s efforts made no impact on my decision to run.”… – CBS News, 6-4-10
  • Steele: DOJ should examine White House dealmaking: The Department of Justice should examine the White House dealmaking in Senate primary races with “an impartial referee” who can sort out the facts, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said Saturday.
    The agency should assign “a special investigator or an independent counsel, who can sort out the facts and answer the burning question — what did the White House offer … , who authorized the offer, who else knew about it and what was the expected trade-off for accepting the offer?” Steele said in his party’s weekly radio and Internet address.
    “It’s one thing to keep that promise when you think it’ll help you politically,” Steele said. “The real test of a man’s word is if he keeps it when it’s inconvenient, embarrassing or potentially damaging. On this test, the president and his people have failed.”…. – AP, 6-4-10
  • Statement released by White House Press Secretary on Andrew Romanoff: STATEMENT FROM THE PRESS SECRETARY ON COLORADO SENATE RACE Andrew Romanoff applied for a position at USAID during the Presidential transition. He filed this application through the Transition on-line process. After the new administration took office, he followed up by phone with White House personnel.
    Jim Messina called and emailed Romanoff last September to see if he was still interested in a position at USAID, or if, as had been reported, he was running for the US Senate. Months earlier, the President had endorsed Senator Michael Bennet for the Colorado seat, and Messina wanted to determine if it was possible to avoid a costly battle between two supporters.
    But Romanoff said that he was committed to the Senate race and no longer interested in working for the Administration, and that ended the discussion. As Mr. Romanoff has stated, there was no offer of a job. Denver Post, 6-3-10
  • Andrew Romanoff details contacts with White House over potential jobs: Andrew Romanoff statement:
    I have received a large number of press inquiries concerning the role the White House is reported to have played in my decision to run for the U.S. Senate. I have declined comment because I did not want – and do not want – to politicize this matter.
    A great deal of misinformation has filled the void in the meantime. That does not serve the public interest or any useful purpose.
    Here are the facts:
    In September 2009, shortly after the news media first reported my plans to run for the Senate, I received a call from Jim Messina, the President’s deputy chief of staff. Mr. Messina informed me that the White House would support Sen. Bennet. I informed Mr. Messina that I had made my decision to run.
    Mr. Messina also suggested three positions that might be available to me were I not pursuing the Senate race. He added that he could not guarantee my appointment to any of these positions. At no time was I promised a job, nor did I request Mr. Messina’s assistance in obtaining one.
    Later that day, I received an email from Mr. Messina containing descriptions of three positions (email attached). I left him a voicemail informing him that I would not change course.
    I have not spoken with Mr. Messina, nor have I discussed this matter with anyone else in the White House, since then. WaPo, 6-3-10

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Myths and falsehoods about the Sestak and Romanoff controversies: Media Matters for America has compiled a list of the myths and falsehoods about the White House’s conversations with Democratic Senate candidates Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff concerning those candidates taking positions in the administration…. – Media Metters, 6-3-10
  • Clinton’s Role in Sestak Controversy Stirs Questions About His and White House Motives: “This is the way politics operates and almost all former presidents, key public leaders, party leaders do this for the president,” Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told Fox News.
    “Also keep in mind, this is an unusual administration,” he said. “It’s a merger of the Obama wing and Clinton wing. We’ve seen that since the Cabinet was formed. Yes, former President Clinton does political duties for Obama and Rahm Emanuel.”… – Fox News, 5-29-10
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