Helen Thomas: Press Corps Has "Played Dead," Rumsfeld's All "Baloney"

March 1st, 2006 3:58 PM

Former UPI White House reporter Helen Thomas gave an interview to Campus Progress, the campus project of the liberal Center for American Progress. Her theme, unsurprisingly, was that the Washington press corps is a bulk pack of weenies:

Starting after 9/11, they rolled over and played dead—they were so afraid of being called unpatriotic and un-American and they thought the American people were watching on television. They lost their guts and they did a lousy job. It was so clear, for two years, that President Bush wanted to go to war. Every day on the podium in the press room, we heard Ari Fleischer and then Scott McClellan say in one breath, “9/11—Saddam Hussein—9/11—Saddam Hussein—9/11—.” So later on when they said, no, Saddam Hussein had no links with them it was a little late in the game.

Can you compare the media coverage of the march to war in Iraq and the subsequent events there to other wars that have occurred during your time in the press room?

This one is totally controlled. I think that embedding reporters was good to save lives but they certainly have not done the story. You never really saw the war. You didn’t see the invasion of Baghdad really. You didn’t see the bombs. You didn’t see the victims or anything else. I’ve asked all the people on the networks—”oh,” they said, “that was too gruesome, we couldn’t do that.” Well, that’s war. The Pentagon and the White House had total control of the news. In Vietnam, a reporter could hop on a helicopter, get some help from the military and go anywhere they wanted—they wrote the story and they also wrote how futile it was becoming. And now we have a system where the Pentagon is planting favorable stories in Iraq and, well, God knows where else.

You think that might be happening in the American media as well?

I think every time Rumsfeld briefs, it’s baloney! Here’s a man who signed off on torture, and then when he finally saw the photographs, he had a little bit of conscience… We’ve killed people in torture. That’s not us—is it? Where is the outrage?

Thomas also declared the White House press conference is "absolutely indispensable for a democracy. There is no other institution in our society, no other forum where a president can be questioned...So I think that if you have a chance to ask a question of a president, you shouldn’t blow it—you should really nail him in some way."

Your rebuttal is here, in a Notable Quotable we headlined "Priss Conference":

"What lessons have you learned from your thirteen-month ordeal? Do you think the office of the presidency has been harmed? And what advice do you give future Presidents?"
-- UPI’s Helen Thomas in one of three questions from U.S. reporters to President Clinton the day the Juanita Broaddrick story broke in the Wall Street Journal, February 19, 1999.