Helen Thomas, the Gridiron, and the Moonies

Helen Thomas, the Gridiron, and the Moonies

Helen Thomas, the Gridiron, and the Moonies

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
May 17 2000 7:01 PM

Helen Thomas, the Gridiron, and the Moonies

If Hollywood were to make another movie like (but, one would hope, somewhat better than) The Skulls--that is, a movie indulging the paranoid belief that a single elite organization is responsible for all the evil in the world--it could do worse than call it The Gridiron. As Chatterbox pointed out earlier, the Gridiron Club, a 60-member organization for Washington-based newspaper journalists that puts on an annual talent show attended by the president and other government bigwigs, only recently inducted William Safire, 70, who is the New York Times' pre-eminent Washington columnist and has been writing his column for nearly three decades. A significant reason for the delay, according to two Gridiron members whom Chatterbox interviewed before writing the earlier item (and a third whom Chatterbox interviewed afterward), was that former Gridiron President Helen Thomas, dean of the White House press corps, blackballed him. According to these three sources, Thomas, who is of Lebanese descent, nixed Safire's admission to the club because she didn't like what Safire, who is Jewish and a passionate supporter of Israel, had written about the Middle East. (Since Chatterbox posted the earlier item, no one has contacted him to dispute this. When Chatterbox asked Thomas herself, she said she didn't want to talk and slammed down the phone.)

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The climax of Chatterbox's hypothetical Washington-conspiracy movie, TheGridiron, would occur after a fearless Web columnist exposed the club's inner workings. The past president, whose skullduggery has been made public, would be informed by the current Gridiron president (note to casting: Try to make him look more menacing than the real president, William Raspberry) that she must now resign for the good of her fellow Illuminati; if she refuses, she knows she will pay the Ultimate Penalty. So she quits her job, which automatically disqualifies her from active membership in the Gridiron. As a cover, the all-powerful Gridiron arranges for this woman's place of work, a once-proud-but-now-struggling wire service, to be sold to the followers of a controversial religion. Although she whispers not a word about her reasons for quitting, the world concludes, erroneously, that it was in protest against the sale.

OK, OK. In real life, Helen Thomas probably didn't resign from United Press International, which was just sold to the folks who run the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, for reasons having anything to do with Chatterbox's item about Thomas' blackballing Safire. Still, there may be a Gridiron link. Once a year, Chatterbox presumes, Thomas is obliged to bring whoever owns UPI at that moment (it's changed hands a lot in recent years) to the prestigious Gridiron dinner. As Gridiron Queen--not only a former president but also the first woman ever accepted into the club--Thomas would surely cringe at the thought of sitting at one of the event's better tables, probably one way up front, with a bunch of Moonies--maybe even the Rev. Moon himself, who might use the occasion coyly to decline comment, one more time, on whether he is, in fact, the Messiah. Better to relinquish her active membership and quit UPI than face that social disgrace. What the hell? She's 79.

In retirement, Thomas can still attend the annual Gridiron shows, a privilege accorded the club's non-active "associated" members. (To see the full list of  "associated" members and also a list of "limited members," who apparently consist of highly talented or otherwise clubbable non-journalists, and finally its single "honorary member," whose precise role is a mystery to Chatterbox--the guy's telephone number in Los Angeles is unlisted--click here. Chatterbox has already posted a list of active Gridiron members. To see that, click here.) Thomas could go, but UPI would appear, for the first time in God knows how many years, to be shut out. (Thomas was its only active Gridiron member.) This situation would be reversed, however, if UPI chief Arnaud de Borchgrave, who is reputed to own more dinner jackets than any other journalist on five continents, were to gain admission to the Gridiron.