The White House has officially denounced the controversial remarks that Helen Thomas, longtime Hearst Newspapers columnist and 89-year-old dean of the White House press corps, made about Jews and Israel.
"Those remarks are offensive and reprehensible," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said during Monday’s press briefing. "She should and has apologized. Those remarks certainly don’t reflect the opinion of folks here or the administration." Thomas, who is of Lebanese descent, was not present.
On Sunday, Thomas was dropped dropped by Nine Speakers Inc., the agency that books her speaking engagements:
“It is with a heavy heart that Nine Speakers, Inc. announces its resignation as the agent for Helen Thomas, Dean of the White House Press Corps. Ms. Thomas has had an esteemed career as a journalist, and she has been a trailblazer for women, helping others in her profession, and beyond. However, in light of recent events, Nine Speakers is no longer able to represent Ms. Thomas, nor can we condone her comments on the Middle East. Nine Speakers will continue to enthusiastically represent all of our other current and future clients."
Thomas was also dropped as the commencement speaker at Bethesda, Maryland’s Walt Whitman High School. She was scheduled to appear there on June 14.
"Graduation celebrations are not the venue for divisiveness," the school’s principal wrote in an e-mail to students and parents.
Thomas apologized on her Web site Friday.
"I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians," she wrote. "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.”
In a video interview, Thomas suggested Jews “get the hell out of Palestine" and go back "home" to Poland, Germany or America.
Rabbi David Nesenoff, who conducted the interview, said on "Fox & Friends" on Monday that he plans to release “part two" of the video soon.
Meanwhile, the White House Correspondents Association board was said to be meeting on Monday to discuss the situation.
Why Thomas — now a columnist, not a daily reporter — gets a front-row seat season after season is one of those Inside-the-Beltway mysteries that are just accepted as D.C. tradition. As Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher points out, seats at White House briefings are assigned, "but if someone doesn’t show, they’re fair game. Except Helen’s seat."
I agree with Time’s Joe Klein: Thomas access shouldn’t be revoked, but her front-row guarantee should.