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Report: Press threw Helen Thomas under bus to save its reputation

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Media

The White House press corps was so worried about its reputation when veteran reporter Helen Thomas ranted against Jews in 2010 that it quickly moved to discredit her journalistic creds and personally attacked her as crazy in a bid to save itself, according to a new journalism school analysis.

Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly details the efforts by the press corps to shove Thomas out of their club after she told a New York rabbi in a widely distributed video that Israel should "get the hell out of Palestine," and that Jews should "go home" to "Poland, Germany ... and America and everywhere else."

Two journalism professors researched the mini-scandal and aftermath during which other journalists attacked Thomas' pro-Palestine politics, her career and age. Citing the assault on the former UPI reporter and Hearst columnist, the scholars said, "these remarks indicate that Thomas formerly demonstrated traditional journalistic values, but with this comment had demonstrated that she no longer possessed such values and was thus unrepresentative of the journalistic community."

Thomas retired in 2010 after the flare-up over her comments. She's 92.

The University of Missouri's Ryan Thomas and Elizabeth Blanks Hindman of Washington State University describe the Washington press corps as an insular group protective of its image. Even though Thomas had a reputation to speaking her mind, she was protected by the press corps until she crossed an imaginary line with her swipe at Jews living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, they said.

Several lines of attack on Thomas were used in editorials, columns and comments from journalists, they found. One hit her age, "suggesting that perhaps Thomas was the victim of senility." Another said she shouldn't have spoken her mind, "suggesting that the norm of journalistic objectivity had long masked a darker side to Helen Thomas."

The duo indicate, however, that Thomas might have been treated unfairly. They note that at the time of her comments she was an opinion writer, not a straight-up reporter, and hadn't been one for 10 years.

The analysis provided to Secrets concluded that "the news media still engage in paradigm repair to 'circle the wagons' to protect the profession and cast aside an errant outsider. Helen Thomas was marginalized alternately as a 'great journalist gone bad,' a senile, elderly woman with a tenuous grip on reality, and a holder of extreme viewpoints," said the study.

It added: "Unlike other cases, where the death of a journalistic icon led to eulogizing about the storied career of a member of the interpretive community, in this case Thomas's reputation was used against her, the collective memory of her storied career thoroughly revised to fit its ignominious end."