Doubting Thomas

Doubting Thomas

Doubting Thomas

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
June 9 2010 2:01 PM

Doubting Thomas

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Meredith , I must respectfully disagree about Helen Thomas, her critics, and the substance of her words last week. It wasn’t a pack of howling conservative journalists who "took her down," it was Helen Thomas who took herself down. This wasn’t a lone instance of a gotcha-obsessed "new media" preying on a vulnerable old lady. This was an indefensible statement made (and made more than once ) by someone who doubtless believed she was bravely giving voice to a legitimate position in the Middle East conflict.

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Defenders of Thomas are now trying to prove that she is being unfairly silenced for that bravery; another victim of political correctness at best and of the Jewish cabal that dominates public discourse at worst. Forgive me, but that is colossal bullshit. Despite endless assertions that Thomas has a right to free speech, this has nothing whatever to do with her freedom to speak. The government didn’t shut Helen Thomas down, the marketplace did. The words "Jews should go home to Germany or Poland" are unambiguous. That Thomas added "America or anywhere else" in a subsequent formulation of her answer doesn’t change the fact that she wants Jews to go "home" to places that relatively recently tried to exterminate them. Did she intend that they be marched into camps when they got there? That the Germans "fire up the crematoria?" Does it matter? The notion that she just happened to single out these two countries strains all credulity. It was an offensive and ill-informed comment that is doubly grotesque coming from a 90-year-old woman who presumably lived through and remebers the Holocaust, as compared with you and I who have the luxury of thinking of it as history.

The fact that Thomas was a pioneer for female journalists, a sometime speaker of truth to power, and a generous boss doesn’t change the fact that her words caused outrage because they were outrageous. Journalists-and everyone else in this country-have every right to speak their minds freely. But when that speech is insulting, ahistoric , and vicious on its face, we can and should decline to listen without being judged and condemned as small-minded censors.

Photograph of Helen Thomas by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate and hosts the podcast Amicus.