Between her tirades against White House press secretary Dana Perino, Helen Thomas granted an interview to the Huffington Post about how she has never made a major mistake. "I don't have any mistakes to tell you about," she said. The Huffington Post’s Seema Kalia replied: "You don't have any recollection of any time you didn't do something well?" Thomas said: "No, not that I know of. I don't say I'm perfect, and I do say I've made mistakes, but nothing that's colossal." This is not the standard she’s used to judge President Bush, writing at least two columns that lamented his answers to list-your-mistakes questions from the White House press corps.
The Huffington Post announced Thomas was the first "luminary" in a new bimonthly series of interviews with "various luminaries about the one mistake that taught them the most." Kalia introduced the interview:
We asked journalist Helen Thomas to be our first interview subject for this column so we could learn something about her professional past that was particularly memorable - something that might have left such a significant imprint that it informed how she did her work as a reporter from thereon.
She, being Helen Thomas, questioned the entire premise of the interview. Stating, in short, that as a political reporter, she simply isn't allowed to make mistakes:
HELEN THOMAS: I don't have any mistakes to tell you about.
SEEMA KALIA: You don't have any recollection of any time you didn't do something well?
THOMAS: No, not that I know of. I don't say I'm perfect, and I do say I've made mistakes, but nothing that's colossal.
KALIA: The spirit of this interview is really to explore the role of mistake-making as part of the growth of people who are really successful at what they do.
THOMAS: No, no, no...you're looking for something else; you want people to flagellate themselves.
KALIA: There are many people I'd like to see flagellated in Washington, but you are not among them.
THOMAS: Well, I can't think of any [mistakes] that would be earth-shaking. Everybody makes mistakes. I don't know any reporter that hasn't done some Monday morning quarter-backing and wondered if they could have done something better; should they have asked a different question? But one thing about our business -- one thing about journalism -- is if you make a mistake, you're finished. Your mistake is on the front page and you don't have a job the next day. That's the way I've always seen it, and that's how it happens. I think we pay a higher penalty for our mistake than anyone else because it's so glaring when we do.
Listen for the Bush echo in the April 16, 2004 Helen Thomas syndicated column, which began:
President George W. Bush told reporters at a rare prime-time news conference that he couldn't think of any mistakes he has made since he was inaugurated.
The president appeared totally flummoxed when asked to name one. He hemmed and hawed and aw-shucked, suggested that such a question was better left to historians.
He complained about being asked such a question "in the midst of this press conference with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer."
He then veered toward humility. "I don't want to sound like I've made no mistakes. I'm confident I have." But he said he just wasn't "as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one."
Well, let me try to help. Let's start with his invasion of Iraq....
Helen ended her column on Bush’s mistakes:
Bush acknowledges he faces tough times and that he plans to send more troops to Iraq and they will be there for an indefinite period, probably long after the United States returns sovereignty to the Iraqi people on June 30. Maybe after June, the president will find time to ponder whether he has made any mistakes.
The same theme to a lesser degree emerged in the Helen Thomas column of June 7, 2006:
President George W. Bush has finally admitted that he made a mistake in his Iraqi misadventure. But it's only what he said, not what he did.
Asked what "missteps and mistakes" he regretted about the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Bush replied that his biggest regret was his use of cowboy language such as "bring it on" at the start of the war in 2003 and in saying he wanted terrorist leader Osama bin Laden "dead or alive"....
If only the fault was simply his empty rhetoric. The acknowledgement of any mistake was a headline story for Bush, even though it was a slim mea culpa by a very defensive president.
Thomas's answers to the HuffPost don't even count as a "slim mea culpa."