Veteran reporter Helen Thomas had been writing about the White House for 57 years. She had earned a few perks: the best seat in the White House briefing room, with her name on it; birthday cupcakes from the president; cameos in light movies about the White House; and even a starring role in an HBO documentary directed by JFK’s niece.
What she didn’t get: a free pass to tell the Jewish people in Israel to “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland and Germany, as she did in late May.
Thomas apologized for her remarks, but both her speakers’ agency and her book collaborator dropped her with a thud. After fielding recriminations from just about everyone, including the White House, she resigned from her job at Hearst four days later.
The next burning question: Who would get That Seat? Thomas’s front-and-center chair in the briefing room was perhaps the most coveted piece of furniture in the West Wing, after the chair behind the Oval Office desk. With the cushion still warm, the competition started closing in: CNN, NPR, Fox News, and Bloomberg were virtually locked in a death match. One Bloomberg correspondent compared the power struggle to “musical chairs in elementary school … except it has the cut-throat viciousness of a snake pit.” In the end, the Associated Press came out the winner.
Thomas broke her post-retirement silence four months later in a radio interview with an Ohio reporter she knew, reaffirming her stance on Israel but denying being anti-Semitic. Setback aside, the 90-year-old Thomas says she still hopes to work again.