Over the past couple of years, former Hearst columnist Helen Thomas had adopted a recurring habit of employing moral equivalency between al-Qaeda terrorists and the actions of the American military as, on at least three occasions, she referred to "so-called terrorists" or "so-called terrorism."
In February 2009, after she used the term "so-called terrorists" in a White House briefing, she was asked by Tommy Christopher – currently of Mediaite – to explain why she employed this choice of words, and she elaborated: "Because some people think they’re freedom fighters since they are in their own country. And we can dub them as ‘terrorists’ and their tactics are horrible, but so are ours. We drop bombs on people in Iraq, people who did nothing to us."
On the January 14, 2010, The O’Reilly Factor, FNC host Bill O’Reilly used his show’s regular "Reality Check" segment to highlight comments she made after being questioned again by Christopher in which she referred to America fighting "so-called terrorism" and expressed a view of moral equivalency between the United States and the terrorists with which America is at war. When asked in an interview with Mediaite what her point was in repeatedly asking Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan at a January 7, 2010, press conference why al-Qaeda terrorists are trying to kill Americans, as if to suggest that such behavior was provoked by wrongdoing by the U.S., Thomas responded:
I was trying to find out why, why, what’s, look, we’ve been in this war, eight, nine years, against this so-called terrorism. And I do say "so-called" because in the newspapers, if you read, you read about the militants, you don’t read about us bombing everybody, and never really explaining why, and going into three, four different countries, Middle East, Africa, and so forth. Who are we? And why are we doing this?
One of her earlier uses of the "so-called terrorists" term came in a February 14, 2008, interview with Dr. James Zogby on the Arab American Institute’s Viewpoint program. After complaining about the press not being more aggressive with the Bush administration on Iraq, Thomas continued: "I think the press obviously laid down on the job. The fear card was played on the press just as Congress became very cowardly. Nobody wanted to rock the boat. Nobody wanted to challenge the administration. They were afraid we’d be playing into the hands of the ‘terrorists.’ So called." Thomas raised her hands to mimic quotation marks as she spoke the word "terrorists."
Below are some of the relevant transcripts of Helen Thomas in interviews with the AAI's Dr. James Zogby and with Mediaite's Tommy Christopher:
#From the February 14, 2008, Arab American Institute’s Viewpoint program, with Dr. James Zogby:
HELEN THOMAS: I think Barack Obama is too far all over the place on the Middle East. He issued a statement on Gaza saying it was all right to cut them off from oil, from fuel and food. He has taken the Israeli position on everything. So I don’t think the Arabs per se, and I think he has to give a wide distance because of his middle name, want to be sure he doesn’t bend over backwards toward the Arabs. No, I mean, I would like to hear more concrete things from him. I want universal health care, single payer everybody like Social Security, Medicare and so on. He’s not specific.
[John McCain is] caving on everything that he stood for, including – including – torture. He was five and a half years in a Hanoi prison, Hanoi Hilton, and now he’s come out against a ban on torture. That was the only thing, and campaign finance reform, those were the good things. But he’s for this war to last 100 years, he’s anti-abortion rights, he’s anti-gun control – no, I’m sorry, I don’t see him standing up for anything for human beings.
THOMAS (COMPLAINING ABOUT THE PRESS NOT BEING TOUGH ENOUGH ON IRAQ): I think the press obviously laid down on the job. The fear card was played on the press just as Congress became very cowardly. Nobody wanted to rock the boat. Nobody wanted to challenge the administration. They were afraid we’d be playing into the hands of the "terrorists." So called. (RAISES HER HANDS TO MIMIC QUOTATION MARKS WHEN SHE SAYS "TERRORISTS")
(Answering a question of what was the most egregious thing she had witnessed in her time working at the White Hosue)
The things this President has done have affected every man, woman and child in the world.
CALLER: Why is the United States against Iran developing nuclear capability to defend themselves against most of the other countries surrounding them who do have it?
THOMAS: That’s a wonderful question. It’s so logical. It’s incredible. And Bush has never been asked that? Why? Because it has been decided that Iran is a powerful Middle East nation that could be influencing others, and they don’t want any nation to have any kind of weapon that would be on the par with Israel’s arsenal.
#From the February 9, 2009, White House press conference:
Mr. President, do you think that Pakistan and, are maintaining the safe havens, and Afghanistan, for these so-called "terrorists"? And also, do you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?
#Posted at Hotair.com on February 20, 2009:
TOMMY CHRISTOPHER: When you asked the President about Afghainstan and Pakistan during a news conference, you said, "so-called terrorists." Do you want to explain why you say "so-called terrorists."
HELEN THOMAS: Because some people think they’re freedom fighters since they are in their own country. And we can dub them as "terrorists" and their tactics are horrible, but so are ours. We drop bombs on people in Iraq, people who did nothing to us.
CHRISTOPHER: So would you say that it’s for the sake of intellectual honesty that you do that?
THOMAS: I say we need it.
#Posted at Mediaite on January 13, 2010:
TOMMY CHRISTOPHER: You asked John Brennan about, you said, "Why are they trying to attack us?" A lot of our readers had questions about that, were critical. What were you trying to get at with that question?
HELEN THOMAS: I was trying to find out why, why, what’s, look, we’ve been in this war, eight, nine years, against this so-called terrorism. And I do say "so-called" because in the newspapers, if you read, you read about the militants, you don’t read about us bombing everybody, and never really explaining why, and going into three, four different countries, Middle East, Africa, and so forth. Who are we? Why are we doing this? Why isn’t every reporter asking that? I think, I mean, don’t you think you ought to know why you’re asked to go kill and die?
CHRISTOPHER; So, what sort of response were you expecting from Brennan? Did you get what you expected? Were you satisfied with the answer?
THOMAS: Hell no, because the real reason is foreign policy. How would we like foreign troops coming into our country and killing the people? That’s the answer. They say religion and everything else. Religion could be a good cover story in maybe some element, but the real reason is us being in places where we don’t belong – Afghanistan, Iraq – there was no reason, no Iraqis were involved in 9/11.