It is always dangerous for a reporter to become the story. For Helen Thomas, two months before her 90th birthday, it has meant the end of her career.
The daughter of Lebanese immigrants who could neither read nor write, Ms Thomas was covering the White House 11 years before its current spokesman was born. Yesterday she resigned in disgrace after telling a Jewish online news service that Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home”.
In the final outburst of a career spanning seven decades and ten presidents, Ms Thomas appeared not to know, or not to care, that she was talking to a rabbi on the day of the White House’s official celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month last week.
“Any comments on Israel?” she was asked. “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine,” she replied.
Prompted to say something more positive in the spirit of the occasion, the 89 year-old dean of the White House Press Corps said: “Remember, these people are occupied and it’s their land. It’s not Germans’. It’s not Poland’s.”
Her remarks were scarcely reported at first, but when posted on the Drudge Report website at the weekend they provoked a storm of controversy in which outraged accusations of anti-Semitism quickly drowned out defenders of free speech.
Ms Thomas issued a blanket apology on Sunday, saying she deeply regretted comments that did not reflect her heartfelt hopes for peace in the Middle East through “mutual respect and tolerance”, but her statement came too late. Yesterday Robert Gibbs, President Obama’s spokesman, called her remarks offensive and reprehensible.