WASHINGTON, June 7, 2010 -- Helen Thomas, a veteran columnist for Hearst Newspapers, announced her resignation today shortly after the White House condemned her remarks about Jews as "offensive" and "reprehensible."
Thomas caused an uproar with her recent remarks that Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine" and "go home" to Poland, Germany, America and "everywhere else."
"I think she should and has apologized," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said at the daily briefing today. "Obviously those remarks do not reflect, certainly, the opinion of, I assume, most of the people in here, and certainly not of the administration."
Since Thomas made the comments in a May 27 interview with RabbiLive.com, former U.S. officials and fellow columnists had called for her suspension from the White House press briefings, where she has her own front-row, center seat. Thomas, 89, is given special privileges due to her long-standing service as a journalist. She has covered every president since John F. Kennedy.
Today marked the first time a U.S. official condemned her comments. Gibbs called Thomas' remarks, "offensive and reprehensible." He said he not has directly spoken with President Obama about Thomas' comments.
Thomas' seat in the briefing room was empty today, as she did not show up for the daily briefing.
Since her remarks surfaced on the web in the past week, calls for Thomas to lose her privileged seat in the press room had mounted.
On Sunday, former Clinton special counsel and spokesman Lanny J. Davis became the latest former U.S. official to call on the White House to suspend Thomas' privileges in the White House press room, and for Hearst to consider a similar suspension of her position as a nationally syndicated columnist.
"Of course Helen has the right as a private citizen under the First Amendment to speak her mind, even as an anti-Jewish bigot, but not as a member, much less privileged member with a reserved seat, in the WH press corps," Davis wrote in a statement.
Also on Sunday, Thomas was dropped from her speaking agency, Nine Speakers, Inc. The agency's president Diane Nine issued a statement saying, "Ms. Thomas has had an esteemed career as a journalist, and she has been a trailblazer for women, helping others in her profession, and beyond. However, in light of recent events, Nine Speakers is no longer able to represent Ms. Thomas, nor can we condone her comments on the Middle East."
And a Bethesda, Md., high school canceled Thomas' scheduled June 14 graduation speech.
Walt Whitman High School's principal, Alan Goodwin, emailed students and parents on Sunday: "Graduation celebrations are not the venue for divisiveness."
Helen Thomas' Apology for Remarks on Israel
Thomas issued a statement of apology after her comments became public, saying, "I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."
Thomas was the first female officer of the National Press Club, the White House Correspondents Association, and first female member of the Gridiron Club. She has covered ten presidents, since John F. Kennedy, and is considered the "dean of Washington press corps."
Last August, Obama made a special visit to the briefing room with cupcakes to wish her a happy birthday.
But neither Thomas' apology nor her status as an esteemed member of the White House Press Corps warded off calls for further action.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti Defamation League, said Sunday that her apology "does not go far enough."
"Her remarks were outrageous, offensive and inappropriate, especially since she uttered them on a day the White House had set aside to celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of American Jews during Jewish America Heritage Month," Foxman said.
"We believe Thomas needs to make a more forceful and sincere apology for the pain her remarks have caused," he said.
Fellow columnists, such as Time Magazine's Joe Klein, had also called for her removal from her front-row position at the White House press briefings.
The White House Correspondents Association issued a statement today despite saying it was not its role to "police the speech of our members or colleagues."
"Helen Thomas' comments were indefensible and the White House Correspondents Association board firmly dissociates itself from them," the statement read. "Many in our profession who have known Helen for years were saddened by the comments, which were especially unfortunate in light of her role as a trail blazer on the White House beat."
The statement said there would be a special meeting of the association board Thursday on whether it is "appropriate for an opinion columnist to have a front row seat in the WH briefing room."
Thomas had also come under criticism for her pointed questioning of U.S. support of Israel to Gibbs a day after a violent clash between Israeli commandos and international activists aboard a flotilla of six ships purportedly filled with humanitarian aid headed for the Gaza Strip.
Ari Fleischer: Fire Helen Thomas
Former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer had gone further, calling for Hearst to fire Thomas.
"She should lose her job over this," Fleischer said in an email to the Huffington Post. "As someone who is Jewish, and as someone who worked with her and used to like her, I find this appalling.
"She is advocating religious cleansing. How can Hearst stand by her? If a journalist, or a columnist, said the same thing about blacks or Hispanics, they would already have lost their jobs."