SPJ board of directors votes to retire Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award
Lisa Flam, contributor
January 19, 2011
The Society of Professional Journalists is retiring the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award, saying controversy over her remarks on Israel has overtaken the reason behind the honor.
The move comes eight months after Thomas, 90, the former longtime White House correspondent, made remarks condemned as anti-Semitic and lost her job with Hearst Newspapers.
"To continue offering the award would reignite the controversy each year and take away from its purpose: honoring a lifetime of work in journalism," the society said on its website. "No individual worthy of such honor should have to face this controversy. No honoree should have to decide if the possible backlash is worth being recognized for his or her contribution to journalism."
In May, Thomas, who is of Lebanese descent, was asked by a rabbi if she had any comments on Israel.
"Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine," she said in videotaped comments. "Remember, these people are occupied. And it's their land. It's not Germany, it's not Poland." When asked where the Israelis should go, she said they should "go home" to Germany, Poland and the U.S.
The society, founded in 1909, said it considered taking her name off the award in July, but didn't, noting "it was a one-time, spontaneous remark for which she apologized."
But, the society said, she stood by her remarks when quoted in December in Michigan, adding, "Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street are owned by the Zionists. No question."
The organization received both support and opposition to taking Thomas' name off the award. The board of directors voted on Friday to stop issuing the lifetime achievement award. The group will not rename the award, whose first recipient was Thomas, in 2000.
Earlier this month, a weekly Virginia newspaper, the Falls Church News-Press, hired Thomas to write as a columnist. The paper's owner-editor, Nicholas Benton, said she deserved a second chance.
Thomas couldn't immediately be reached through the newspaper for comment on the society's decision.