Local Commentary

Editorial: Welcome Back, Helen Thomas

The following is a statement by Falls Church News-Press founder, owner and editor Nicholas F. Benton:

The Falls Church News-Press is proud and honored to announce that veteran American journalist and national treasure Helen Thomas is coming out of a seven month self-imposed retirement to resume her weekly column exclusively in the News-Press beginning with this edition, both in print and online.

Ms. Thomas, who turned age 90 in August, has been covering Washington politics since 1942, and has been a White House correspondent covering every U.S. president on a day-to-day basis since the administration of John F. Kennedy.

Since 2000, she has written a weekly column based on attending daily White House press briefings to ask the kind of penetrating, truth-seeking questions that had become her hallmark. The Falls Church News-Press carried that column in print on a weekly basis beginning January 2004 until early June 2010, when it abruptly ceased.

On June 8, Ms. Thomas declared herself retired following a torrent of angry criticism reacting to a spontaneous verbal comment she made that was taped the day before. Ms. Thomas’ comments were intemperate and inappropriate, as she conceded afterward. They reflected her personal anger arising from the news that Israeli commandos had boarded a ship on a humanitarian mission to Gaza and had killed over a dozen volunteers.

Ms. Thomas’ views on a variety of subjects often differ from prevailing White House or other policies and positions. One of nine children born to Lebanese-Syrian immigrant parents, she has held to opinions different from many on U.S. policy toward the Middle East since the 1940s.

But her personal views have not tainted her highly-professional work for 50 years as a White House correspondent, except perhaps to inform the kinds of questions that she’s never shied away from asking.

I have known Ms. Thomas since the founding of the News-Press in 1991. She visited our offices twice to meet readers and admirers. We share an appreciation for Eleanor Roosevelt and her work on behalf of the International Declaration of the Rights of Man.

She is progressive, and following my more than eight hours of direct, one-on-one talks with her since the events of last June, I remain firmly convinced that she is neither bigoted, nor racist, nor anti-Semitic.

Her remarks in June were in response to a question about Israel, not Jews, and were intended to mean that in these times, Jewish people are free to live wherever they wish, because the era of anti-Jewish persecution is ended. That was not adequately expressed because of the impromptu nature of the incident.

As one who has championed the cause of inclusion in my newspaper for 20 years, who founded the Diversity Affirmation Education Fund for the Falls Church School System, I am proud that a journalist of the stature and professionalism of Helen Thomas is relaunching her career in my newspaper. She more than deserves, and I am honored to help provide her, the proverbial “second chance.”