Helen Thomas Award Debate Continues

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Helen Thomas, pictured above, retired after her comments that Israel should "get the hell out of Palestine." (Credit: YouTube, AP)

Last week, iMediaEthics wrote about the National Arab American Journalists’ Association’s (NAAJA) complaints about the Society of Professional Journalists’ (SPJ) decision to “retire” its Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award, and the SPJ’s president’s explanation of the decision.

Ray Hanania forwarded to us a letter he sent to the SPJ dated Dec. 9, 2010. See here.  He says the SPJ “ignored” the letter.

In the letter, Hanania, the national coordinator for the NAAJA, explained he was “writing to urge the board not to take any action” to end the award, calling Thomas “an important role model for American Arabs who have and are pursuing journalism as a career choice.”

Hanania republished lines from the transcript from the controversial video of Thomas.

In the transcript, as Hanania noted, Thomas doesn’t say that “Jews” should “get the hell out of Palestine.”  She responds to Nesenoff’s question of “Any comments on Israel? We’re asking everybody today, any comments on Israel?” by saying “tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.”

However, according to Hanania, “in almost every news media report of the incident, it was reported that Helen Thomas said that ‘Jews’ should ‘get the Hell out of Palestine.'”

Thomas did issue an apology in June for her comments about Israel and Palestine.  “I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Thomas stated.

However, in the above Fox News article including Thomas’s apology, for example, it incorrectly summarized Thomas’ comments as being directed to “Jews.”

Hanania further wrote that he was a speaker at the meeting where Thomas again controversially reportedly made comments about “Zionists.”

Hanania claimed Thomas “never used the word ‘Jews.'”  He noted that he “videotaped the speech and it is on my Morning Talk Radio Web site,” as well as posting the transcript, where Thomas is quoted as saying

“The whole question of money involved in politics. We are owned by propagandists against the Arabs. There is no question about that. Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street are owned by the Zionists.”

See Hanania’s complete letter here.

iMediaEthics wrote to SPJ’s president Hagit Limor asking if she had any comment regarding Hanania’s above letter.  We haven’t received any response as of yet, but will update with any response.

In a “guest commentary” for the Denver Post, former Denver Post staff writer and former SPJ president Christine Tatum criticized the SPJ’s decision to end the Helen Thomas Award.

As Tatum wrote:

“Because of her remarks about Israel and Zionist politics in recent months, Helen is now giving many of her colleagues in journalism hell and indigestion — and far too many of them are proving to be every bit as thin-skinned as the presidents, kings and dictators she has shaken a finger at for decades.”

She went on to say: “SPJ leaders have practically twisted themselves into pretzels to justify this shameful decision,” accusing the SPJ of “defending free speech — just not Helen’s.”

Read Tatum’s full criticism here.

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Helen Thomas Award Debate Continues

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