In 1960, I co-founded a student magazine at Cornell University called Dialogue. I was a wannabe journalist, fixated on emulating the courageous media personalities of the times from Edward R. Murrow to a distinctive figure I came to admire at Presidential press conferences, a wire service reporter named Helen Thomas.
In recent years, my faith in the power of dialogue in politics has been severely tested " as, no doubt has hers " in an age where diatribes and calculated demonization chills debate and exchanges of opposing views.
Once you are labeled and stereotyped, especially if you are denounced as an anti-Semite, you are relegated to the fringes, pronounced a hater beyond redemption, even beyond explanation.
My career path took me from covering civil rights activism in the streets to later working in the suites of network power. I went from the underground press to rock-and-roll radio to TV reporting and producing at CNN and ABC.
As a member in good standing of an activist generation, I saw myself more as an outsider in contrast to Helen's distinctive credentials as an insider, as a White House bureau chief and later as the dean of the White House Correspondents Association.
Yet, beneath her establishment credentials and status, she was always an outsider too " one of nine children born to a family of Lebanese immigrants in Winchester, Kentucky, who despite their Middle East origins, were Christians in the Greek Orthodox Church.
She became a pioneering woman, a modern day Helen of Troy, who broke the glass ceiling, infiltrating the clubby, mostly male, inside-the-Beltway world of big egos and self-important media prima donnas, most supplicants to power, not challengers of it.
Her origins were more modest. She grew up in an ethnic neighborhood in Detroit. She received her bachelor's degree from Wayne State University in 1942, the year I was born.
Earlier this year, her alma mater which had taken so much pride in her achievements, withdrew an award in her name in a striking gesture of cowardice and submission to an incident blown out of all proportions that instantly turned Helen from a shero to a zero in a quick-media second.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center -- not, by the way, linked to the legendary Nazi Hunter (who was unhappy with its work) -- put her on their top-ten list of anti-Semites after angry remarks she made about Israel went viral and blew up into one of the major media stories of 2010.
President Barack Obama who cheerfully brought her a birthday cake, hailing her long years of service to the American people, later labeled her remarks "reprehensible."
You would think that given all the vicious slurs, Hitler comparisons and putdowns directed at him, he would be more cautious tossing slurs at others.
But, no, all politicians pander to deflect criticism whenever they fear the winds of enmity will blow their way.
Now it was Helen who was being compared to Hitler in a new furor over the Fuhrer even though she says she grew up in a home that despised him, and from which her two brothers joined the Army in World War ll.
She says now "We didn't do enough to expose Hitler early on. He was not just anti-Jewish. He was anti-American!"