24 April 2008

Flowers for Helen Thomas

Readers of this blog who are not from the U.S. may be unfamiliar with Helen Thomas, so I'll begin with some data from her biography in Wikipedia. Helen is an 87-year-old member of the White House press corps. Born in Kentucky to Lebanese immigrants, she studied journalism, then began her presidential coverage with JFK and "was the only female print journalist to travel with President Richard Nixon to China during his historic trip in 1972. She has traveled around the world several times with Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush, and has covered every Economic Summit, working up to the position of UPI's White House Bureau Chief, a post she would hold for over thirty-five years." She resigned from UPI the day after it was taken over by Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, becoming a columnist for the Hearst Newspapers.

Helen is famous both for her knowledge of how Washington and world geopolitics works, her integrity, and her bold outspokenness in the face of Presidential authority. She has openly challenged President Bush on the Iraq war and has said "I'm covering the worst president in American history." Former Press Secretary Tony Snow thanked her for expressing the "Hezbollah view" of the war. She has also been critical of the U.S. Congress, which she calls "gutless" and her press colleagues, whom she considers timid and subservient to corporate and political authority.

That's the prologue. Here's the recent development. Two weeks ago, ABC news reported that President Bush's advisers had approved the use of "harsh interrogation techniques" at Guantanamo Bay, and the President then admitted he approved of these techniques. However, none of the White House press corps have brought up this topic at the White House press briefings - until Helen Thomas did so yesterday. Here is the 1.5 minute confrontation with Dana Perino:

Perino reiterates the White House position that the techniques were not "torture." Helen Thomas asks "how can you deny that torture occurred when there are pictures of it?" Perino rebuts that Thomas is "misconstruing" events. Cut off from the end of thevideo segment embedded above is Helen Thomas' appeal to her colleagues in the room “Where is everybody? For God’s sakes.”

The "left," as exemplified by Think Progress and Crooks and Liars has covered this story with an abundance of outraged comments. But the Reddit discussion board is doing something about it. They have started a fund to send flowers to Helen Thomas, along with words of support; this has been done at least once before. There's ongoing discussion at Reddit re which flowers and what comments, but as I write this on Thursday afternoon, the fund has accumulated over $1,500.00!!! While it's true that the funds could be used for more pragnatic purposes via various charities, the point here is to make a statement showing support for Helen that might (but probably won't) be picked up by the media. I've just contributed via my Paypal account. Anyone interested in participating can access the Chipin at THIS LINK.

(Photo courtesy Palm Beach Post)

Update: New webpage created to address this project. (and donations now about $3,000)

Update 04/29: Donations now over $4,000 - and flower deliveries started today. Photos at this Flickr page.

Third update: see post here.

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