Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz penned a retrospective on Thomas's apology and sudden retirement from journalism, giving Thomas's critics a free shot at denouncing her for a supposed lack of "objectivity," a principle that has been as absent in the modern Washington press corps as frugality and common sense on Wall Street.
The simple truth is that the media's acceptable bias on the Middle East is almost entirely in the opposite direction. Thomas, who is of Lebanese descent, has been one of the few Washington journalists who dared criticize Israeli mistreatment of Muslims in Palestine, Lebanon and elsewhere and who views Arabs as people deserving of respect and human rights.
The dominant Washington media view, as articulated by the Washington Post's neoconservative editorial section, has been that Israel is always right, except for some possible tactical misjudgments, and that Muslim organizations and nations that oppose Israel are "terrorists."
In recent years, Israel's disproportionate retaliation against people in Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon has been defended as a proper response to Arab aggression. Israel's own history of using terrorism, invading its neighbors and hiding a nuclear weapons arsenal is left outside the media frame.
The Washington press corps also has clambered eagerly onboard the bandwagon for U.S. military invasions of Muslim nations. When President George W. Bush was justifying an unprovoked attack on Iraq in 2002-03, the New York Times and other big news outlets happily took their seats next to the neocons driving for war.
After Bush's invasion toppled Saddam Hussein's regime, MSNBC host Chris Matthews ridiculed the war's critics and declared, "we're all neocons now."
Then, several months after the invasion when the promised Iraqi WMD stockpiles hadn't materialized, Bush began revising the history in front of the White House press corps by claiming that Hussein had barred United Nations inspectors from Iraq, leaving Bush no choice but to invade.
On July 14, 2003, Bush told reporters, "We gave him [Saddam Hussein] a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power."
Facing no direct contradiction of this lie, Bush continued repeating it again and again for the next five years. The objective truth was that Hussein had let the inspectors examine any site of their choosing for months, and they were forced out not by Hussein but by Bush in the days before he launched his "shock-and-awe" invasion. In those days, however, it was scary to challenge Bush.
Only One Helen Thomas
As the Iraq War claimed the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the key problem with the Washington press corps wasn't that it had one Helen Thomas, it was that it only had one Helen Thomas, someone willing to ask the impertinent but important question that pierced the conventional wisdom which dangerously restricts the capital's policy debates.
Thomas also had the integrity to refuse to allow her name and reputation to be used by South Korean theocrat (and right-wing funder) Sun Myung Moon when he took over United Press International in 2000. Then the best-known journalist at UPI, she resigned as an act of principle.
Though Moon was a notorious propagandist who had founded the Washington Times in 1982 as a vehicle for supporting some American politicians (such as Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush) and for tearing down others (such as John Kerry, Bill Clinton and Al Gore), much of the "objective" Washington press corps tolerated and even promoted Moon's curious newspaper.
In the mid-1980s, after Moon's newspaper signed up for the Associated Press wire service, AP executives told AP staffers, including me, that we were no longer allowed to mention Moon's connection to the newspaper when we cited the Washington Times' reporting in AP copy.
That policy change meant that readers of AP stories around the world wouldn't be alerted to the propaganda element of Moon's operation.
Other respected Washington news figures, such as C-SPAN's Brian Lamb, actively promoted Moon's newspaper by hoisting up its articles before viewers, many of whom had no idea that the Times' owner was a religious cult leader with mysterious ties to foreign intelligence services and to international crime syndicates. [For details, see Robert Parry's Secrecy & Privilege.]