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Friday, February 13, 2009

The Denigration of Helen Thomas And How Labels Hurt our Culture

I asked Raff Ellis to guest blog today. He is an example of a voice who dares speak up against those who promote hate among us, many of whom are among our most "respected" citizens. The very ones who denigrate others don't seem to get it that every ill that faces our nation today is rooted in the lack of acceptance for others. I was going to modify that last statement with "arguably." I'm not sure it should be there. If you feel there is an argument to it, please leave a comment. Or, of course, if you take exception. But please, in the interest of tolerance, can we keep it civil. (-: .

By Raff Ellis

On the February 9 the O'Reilly Factor, a show that appeals to a disturbingly large audience, the host and his two guests, Alan Colmes and Bernard Goldberg, “poked fun" at the 88 year-old icon of reportage, Helen Thomas.

The show was peppered with disparaging remarks such as,

"…she's the Wicked Witch of the East,"
"… was that the highlight of her career?” (a question to Pres. Obama about alleged terrorists hiding in Pakistan),
"Her 15 minutes were up during the Lincoln administration, if not before,"
"... the old lady asked a question..."
"It's time for her to find something else to do."

It is difficult to do justice to the tone of the comments as the trio was acting as if Ms. Thomas was not only irrelevant but well past her prime--because of her age. You can view the show in all its glory at: O'Reilly Show 02/09/09 or at

Anyone who has followed Ms. Thomas’ career, read her books, or listened to her interviews cannot but give what is her due—she’s always been a probing, honest journalist--someone I personally admire. (Disclaimer: I also have a soft spot for her because she endorsed my book, but had appreciated her work well before that occurred.)

It seems that Helen Thomas’ cardinal sin was to admit on camera that she was a “liberal,” and proud of it. That was akin to throwing red meat to the lions because, as anyone who has watched recent political campaigns knows, this is a very bad word. “Liberal” has become synonymous with all sorts of nefarious beliefs; Communism, socialism, lacking patriotism, anti-gun, pro-abortion, soft on crime, etc., etc. The label has become so reviled that even progressive politicians shrink from it at every turn.

Yet, if you go to any good dictionary you will find that “liberal” is actually associated with positive, desirable human attributes, whereas it’s opposite—conservatism—is linked to reactionary characteristics that are opposed to change. When and where this campaign to impugn progressive thought began is traced back to the Ronald Reagan era.

The puzzling part of this assault on Ms. Thomas is that certain alleged members of the Fourth Estate—such as O’Reilly himself—are free to call themselves “conservatives” with pride and complete impunity. That three white men feel empowered to attack an 88 year-old woman, whose body of work they could only aspire to achieve, speaks volumes for the character (or lack thereof) of these individuals.

When does an ageing icon of journalism become the butt of unseemly jokes? The answer seems to be when she’s not there to defend herself. This was not the first time O’Reilly (the clown, as Keith Olbermann calls him) has attacked Helen Thomas. He no doubt is still is smarting over her comment that “…George W Bush is the worst president on record.” The conservatives have long memories and will stop at nothing, including coming off as three schoolyard bullies, to exact their revenge. I marvel that there is an audience for this type of “entertainment.”

----Raff Ellis is the author of Kisses from a Distance

Carolyn Howard-Johnson wrote the foreword for Eric Dinyer's book of patriotic quotations, Support Our Troops, published by Andrews McMeel. Part of the proceeds for the book benefit Fisher House. Her chapbook of poetry won the Military Writers Society of America's award of excellence. Find it at


PG Forte said...

Carolyn--I'm impressed as always by your courage in continuing to speak out on so important a topic.

I suspect you and I are living in very different worlds, however; and, in my world, many of those 'respected citizens' to whom you refer neither receive nor are viewed as deserving of respect.

I have no great love for hate-mongers or fear-mongers but, as a very wise person once cautioned me, to have no tolerance for intolerant people is, in itself, a form of intolerance. Some thirty-odd years later, I'm still trying to master that particular lesson.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Peace, I have a different take on that from you. I find tolerance for the intolerant too close to condoning it. Tolerance for the worst of the intolerant. Saddam. Hitlet. Then it becomes very clear to me. Absolute zero-tolerance.

I think I can muster compassion, though. And I have figured out how not to return the bile (I think)--though we all slip at times and that seems to provide us with a way to keep growing for the better.

Now, there's the subject of satire. I can appreciate it but it is difficult sometimes to draw the line between what we'll accept in our lives--and not.

Thank you for commenting. Raff, my guest blogger, and I appreciate whatever comes this way.


Raff Ellis said...

I read PG's comment twice to make sure I understood what was being said. Frankly, I don't see a disagreement here. " my world, many of those 'respected citizens' to whom you refer neither receive nor are viewed as deserving of respect."
If respected citizens was not enquoted, I would read this entirely differently. As it is, 'respected citizens' are suspect--as I think Carolyn meant to imply.