Your must-read of the morning: Miami Herald TV critic Glenn Garvin’s barbecue of a fawning documentary about Helen Thomas.
Here’s a taste:
Multiple choice quiz: Helen Thomas has been covering the White House for 48 years. Which of the following stories did she break?
A. President Kennedy’s plans to invade the Bay of Pigs.
B. President Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia.
C. The Pentagon Papers.
D. The Watergate scandal.
E. None of the above, or anything else, either.
The answer, of course, is E, though you might not guess it from the fawning HBO documentary Thank You, Mr. President: Helen Thomas At The White House, the latest unfortunate example of the increasing tendency to confuse public temper tantrums with good journalism.
Though Thomas is routinely referred to these days as iconic, legendary and fearless, journalism has little to do with it. She’s celebrated not for her work as a journeyman reporter at a second-rate wire service or as a virtually unread political columnist for the Hearst newspapers.
Her reputation really derives from scolding, tendentious speeches nominally delivered as ”questions” like this one to George W. Bush, admiringly featured in Thank You, Mr. President: ”Why do you refuse to respect the wall between church and state? You know that the mixing of religion and government for centuries has led to slaughter.” Just in case you thought that was intended to produce an actual answer — the usual aim of reporters — Thomas interrupted Bush before he could even complete a sentence. Perhaps that’s because when presidents have gotten a chance to reply to Thomas’ tirades, they’ve often made her look like a fool.
A classic example was with Bush’s father during the opening days of the first Gulf War, when she wondered why the president was making such a big deal about Saddam Hussein’s missile attacks on Israel. ”War inherently is a two-way street,” Thomas loftily informed Bush. ”Why should you be surprised or outraged when there is an act of retaliation?” To which the puzzled Bush replied: “To a country that’s innocent and not involved in it?”
That exchange is not included in Thank You, Mr. President, which shamelessly cherry-picks White House briefings to enhance Thomas’ reputation and deprecate the rest of the White House press corps.
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