The New Miss Manners

Well, ol’ Howie Kurtz has finally weighed in on the firing of Helen Thomas, and boy is it a doozy.  (Not doozy in the sense of surprising, natch…).  He argues, ostensibly more in sorrow than envy, that Helen had become a crazy old aunt overdue for the attic that, get this, only lasted this long because of the tradition-bound culture of Washington.   Sounds pretty ludicrous, huh?  But not until you get to where Howie describes the early warnings of Helen’s evident senility do you really appreciate what it is to be a Beltway Eunuch, and worse, one who pretends to be a media critic, to boot.

You see, Howie started to quietly ask around about assisted living facilities for Helen back when she really, to his addled mind, really went off the rails, being so critical of Bush and all.  It was “biased,” and worse, rude to question Bush’s motivations for the Iraq War in those days, and reality apparently hasn’t yet crept into Kurtz’s featherweight mind to see that Helen was, as usual, right and he was, well, Bill Kristol’s even uglier twin of wrongness.  He even manages to devote a paragraph or so to the rank effrontery of her writing a book describing sycophantic, Washington-centric nincompoops like himself, in the title, as, “Watchdogs of Democracy?” That made Kurtz think, and his article makes abundantly clear that he found the experience unpleasant.  Why he would reveal this to his long-suffering readers is a mystery.  The column is so boring, offensive, and insulting that I’m loathe to bore readers with very much of it, but just to show you why in a rational world Howie Kurtz would be embarrassed to go outside, here’s a bit….

Since Thomas was a columnist, she had every right to her opinions — even if her view was that Jews should be banished from Israel. But she didn’t have a perpetual right to a newspaper column or a White House pressroom seat. Hearst bears some responsibility for keeping Thomas on as her behavior grew more disturbing. It’s not that a pro-Israel press corps drove her out; it’s that Thomas could not defend her remarks, and indeed apologized for them.

Ah, I see.  So after Fox News gets her seat objectivity will be returned to the White House Press Room?  Better yet, look at the cheesy way Kurtz looks at stupid, meaningless perks like front row seats as some big deal…  as John Stewart hilariously pointed out, “Are you rushing a sorority?”  Still, Kurtz must be acutely familiar with the uncertainty of employment in the industry he’s helped to discredit and destroy, so treating Thomas’ job as something the mean girls could take away showed they all meant business, Kurtz obviously included.  Rules must be followed.

All this might have been avoided had Helen’s friends gently suggested it was time to retire. But here the insular nature of Beltway life clearly came into play. Those who were accustomed to seeing Thomas around town regarded her as one of Washington’s harmless gadflies, perhaps forgetting that she still had access to a powerful megaphone.

There were exceptions — Slate’s Jack Shafer and the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait have noted that Thomas was asking “wildly inappropriate” questions, as Chait put it, but the story line got no traction, even when the late White House spokesman Tony Snow accused her of offering “the Hezbollah view.”

Can you imagine, bringing in Tony Snow to argue that somebody was inappropriately liberal?  Wasn’t Michael Savage available?  The most hilarious part is that Kurtz still clings to the idea that Thomas somehow represented the “establishment.”  Come on.  The establishment had long since moved on into stenography and incestuous hanky-panky, and the problem with Helen was that she made them look like credulous, ass-kissing dimwits, daily.  But wait, there’s this…

Thomas, meanwhile, positioned herself as the truth-telling alternative to Washington’s weenies. Her 2007 book was titled “Watchdogs of Democracy? The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public.” In a March interview with Vice magazine, she said — with some justification — that “everyone rolled over and played dead” during the run-up to the Iraq war. Thomas added, rather conspiratorially, that she was “sure the big communications corporations got orders from on high. So they played ball.”

And?  Howie never explains, thank god.  The article was excruciating enough, but the thought that he still has a job and Helen doesn’t looks pretty bad for the future of journalism, on whose grave ol’ Howie is dancing.


  1. daphne says:

    So much for the value of truth-telling, as Froomkin could testify. Regardless of whether or not Thomas’s remarks were indefensible, clearly they were more excuse than reason for exiling her. She had entered the kingdom before the moat was constructed; they finally threw her on the other side of it.

    • cocktailhag says:

      I’m inclined to think of her comments as the sort of “kidding on the square” that was Al Franken’s old schtick. A million times I’ve said, “We should start feeding Christians to the lions again,” and such, but I only meant it to make people think… Luckily, I’m not Helen Thomas, and don’t have a front row seat a lot of mean girls want, so I anticipate no backlash.
      I’m sure Howie and the rest of the “unbiased” reporters who thought Iraq was the best thing since sliced bread are glad to see her go. I would be, too, if I were them.

  2. bystander says:

    Jay Rosen has a new piece up at Press Think; Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right: On the Actual Ideology of the American Press.

    He pulls together the lexicon he’s been developing.

    1. The Church of the Savvy.2. The Quest for Innocence.3. Regression to a Phony Mean.4. The View from Nowhere.5. He said, she said journalism.6. The sphere of deviance.

    If I were enterprising, I’d go through some of Helen’s columns to see how well she did in avoiding the ideology of the American press. I’m imagining she did quite well. And, as I reread her older columns, since I imagine there will be no new ones, I can keep Rosen’s lexicon in mind. Wonder how old Howie does in relation to the prat, er, pitfalls Rosen identifies in the press’s ideology?

  3. bystander says:

    I was afraid of that….

    He pulls together the lexicon he’s been developing.

    1. The Church of the Savvy.
    2. The Quest for Innocence.
    3. Regression to a Phony Mean.
    4. The View from Nowhere.
    5. He said, she said journalism.
    6. The sphere of deviance.

    :: Sigh :: What can I say? It looked okay in Preview.

    • cocktailhag says:

      You actually preview? I’m deeply flattered. This program is so bonkers, I never even bother anymore; I just hold my nose and hit “publish.”
      I’m guessing Howie does pretty poorly, but I’m going over to look.

  4. nailheadtom says:

    “. . . the firing of Helen Thomas. . . .”

    Gee, all the news accounts said that she had retired, 89 years old, that seems pretty reasonable. Her and Robert Byrd can help change one another’s Depends, she’ll still be in on the Washington scene. Probably get another job soon anyway, if she’s as sharp as you imply. Keep her old chair in the front row and ask dumb questions for People or US.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Oh, for Pete’s sake. Retired? (grammar hint: “She” and Robert Byrd…) Still, given Israel’s rather egregious and self-destructive behavior, maybe Helen had some good advice; Germany and Poland have changed, and Israel is the new South Africa. I’d get out.

  5. bystander says:

    In a somewhat related vein … which is a way of saying this is really at least 15 degrees off topic … Dan Gilmor has an interesting piece up at Salon that I like a whole lot better than the notion of “vouchers” to support journalism. His defense of the idea is pretty interesting as well. Something even a basic conservative could love.

    Let’s subsidize open broadband, not journalists