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Helen Thomas' Sisters: Media Got It Wrong

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Target Was Settlements, Not All Israel or All Jews, They Say

AOL Aims to Be World's Largest Hirer of Journalists

"Hard-Edged Inquiry" in L.A. on NBC-Comcast Merger

J-Educators Score Obama on Lack of Transparency

Documentarian Wins Round in Battle With Chevron

Gary Coleman Specified No Press at His Funeral

George Foster Dies at 80, Had Multiple Media Roles

Short Takes

Helen Thomas apologized for saying that Israel should "Get the hell out of Palestine." The headline on this YouTube video, "Helen Thomas Tells Jews to Go Back to Germany," illustrates the prevalent interpretation of Thomas' remarks, which her sisters say is wrong.

Target Was Settlements, Not All Israel, They Say

The sisters of Helen Thomas say her statements about Israel - which cost the White House correspondent-turned-Hearst columnist her job - have been widely misinterpreted.

In a telephone interview initiated by Journal-isms, three of them said Thomas was not calling for the destruction of Israel or the return of all Israelis to Europe or the United States, as has been the running narrative, but was expressing her opposition to the disputed Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.

"They should stop confiscating the land that belonged to the Palestinians. We feel that there should be a two-state solution in Palestine," said one sister, who did not want to be identified. The sisters, who spoke from the home of one of them in the Detroit area, which houses the nation's largest concentration of Arab Americans, range in age from 87 to 95. Thomas is 89.  A brother is 100. The family is Lebanese-American.

"Helen Thomas is for peaceful coexistence in the Palestinian territory," said Barbara Isaac, the youngest sister. "What she does not like is that the Palestinians have been completely devastated and made to live under occupation and all the deleterious effects, and the hazardous effects of that, stripped of their ability to live normal lives.

"Helen has lived with this problem for as long as she's been in Washington," she said. Displaced Palestinians become waiters and cooks there, "and would talk to her, and she's heard nothing but their stories of horror for 60 years," Isaac said, referencing the creation of Israel in 1948. "She's out to dinner and they find her.

"If nobody got angry about injustice, then people just go on suffering, knowing that nobody gives a damn."

As Laura Berman wrote Tuesday in the Detroit News, "When asked about Israel during a White House Jewish heritage celebration on May 27, Thomas told 'Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.'

"As the recording continued, Thomas told the interviewer, Rabbi David F. Nesenoff: 'Remember, these people are occupied and it's their land.'

"Asked where they should go, Thomas answered: 'They should go home' to 'Poland, Germany and America and everywhere else.'

"The fallout was quick."

Even President Obama commented, saying Thomas' comments were "offensive" and "out of line." He told NBC that it was a "shame" that her career has ended in controversy, but called Thomas' retirement announcement "the right decision."

According to the sisters, the reference to going home to Poland, Germany and America refers to those who have populated the disputed Israeli settlements.

Obama demanded last year that Israel freeze construction of settlements in the West Bank, but Israel refused.

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen exemplified the prevalent interpretation of Thomas' comments in the news media.

"Well, I don't know about 'everywhere else,' " he wrote, "but after World War II, many Jews did attempt to 'go home' to Poland. This resulted in the murder of about 1,500 of them - killed not by Nazis but by Poles, either out of sheer ethnic hatred or fear they would lose their (stolen) homes."

Helen Thomas was not talking calls, her sisters said, giving a hint at what her life has been like in the past few days. "She has so many bouquets of flowers they can't get into her condo," Isaac said.

Thomas issued this statement on her website on Tuesday: "I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."

She has said nothing publicly since then.

Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab-American News in Dearborn, Mich., which claims to be "the largest, oldest and most respected Arab American newspaper in the United States," told Journal-isms there was never any doubt about what Thomas meant.

"Helen Thomas hit it right on the nail. They should get the hell out of Palestine," he said. "It's illegal" -- what is taking place, he said, "confiscating land" and "illegal settlements."

"She's talking about the settlements," he said without hesitation, asked to explain Thomas' reference.

"I saw the video six or seven times and I know what she meant."

Siblani ran a column on his website Monday from Katrina vanden Heuvel of the Nation magazine, which he called "the fairest" that he had seen. It was titled, "Isn't There Some Room for Helen Thomas?"

For his own editorial, he said, "We're not going to be shy about this. This is a very clear . . . example of the double standard that America has when it comes to Muslims and the rest of the world. You can write attacks on Jesus Christ, but you cannot say anything about Israel. You can criticize and attack the Prophet Mohammed, but you cannot attack the state of Israel, or even be critical of the Jewish state. It is disgraceful and unacceptable in our democracy."

In another development, Ben Burns, director of the journalism program at Wayne State University, clarified reports that the school was considering renaming the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award, which celebrates journalists who bring diversity to the media and was most recently awarded Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Miami Herald and veteran journalist Lynette Clemetson, founding managing editor of

"What I thought I said was that the university would certainly review that suggestion which had come from a number of folks in the community," he told Journal-isms. "I also said that I personally oppose changing the name of the award, but that decision would be made by the Board of Governors of WSU on the President's recommendation. I also said that WSU would move deliberately and carefully in reviewing the suggestions and that the final decision was way above my pay grade. We have had some push back from alums suggesting they would end support for the university if we changed the name. All in all a very sad situation."

(Siblani later added by e-mail: "Just for your information. I received her award this year from Wayne State University. And, if they remove Helen['s] name from the award I swear to God I will have a press conference and I will throw it in the garbage.")

Isaac said she was eager to talk because she believed her sister's personality was being misrepresented.

The comments have been the subject of reporting and opinion pieces around the globe - many expressing praise for Thomas' pioneering achievements but condemning her career-ending remarks. One journalism website debated whether Thomas' comments should be considered anti-Israel, anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic.

"She doesn't hate anybody," Isaac said. One of the older sisters recalled that during the Holocaust, Thomas closely followed first lady Eleanor Roosevelt's efforts to bring German Jews to the United States. "She was very upset about the whole thing, and she had fed them in her apartment building when I used to visit her back in the '40s. They were in the concentration camps. She's very close to all that.

"It's the old cliche. Our best friends are Jewish."


AOL Aims to Be World's Largest Hirer of Journalists

David Eun "AOL is planning to hire hundreds of journalists, editors and videographers in the coming year as it builds out its content-first business model," Michael Learmonth reported Tuesday for Advertising Age.

"David Eun, president of AOL's media and studios division, is expected to announce the push in an all-hands meeting of the group in New York today when he lays out his strategy for the unit that will include grouping all the sites into 17 'super-networks.'

"In an interview, Mr. Eun said he had not only familiarized himself with all of AOL's far-flung content operations in his first 90 days on the job, but also visited many of them personally, studied the economics and data from traffic across AOL's properties and search, and come to one overarching conclusion: produce more content, faster.

" 'Our mission at this company is to be the world's largest producer of high-quality content, period,' he said. 'The content driving our traffic is home-grown, and 80% of it is now produced by folks on the AOL payroll.'

"AOL employs about 500 full-time editorial employees. And while Mr. Eun said the marketplace will determine the pace of new hires, it is conceivable that number could double in the coming year. 'We are going to be the largest net hirer of journalists in the world next year,' he said.

". . . In addition to hiring hundreds of full-time employees over the next year, Mr. Eun wants to quickly ramp up the number of freelancers contributing to AOL. Currently there are about 40,000 freelancers contributing to AOL, its SEED content production arm and Studio One. Mr. Eun said the company is still working on a system that measures the value of a piece of content based on the number of people that click, how long they stay, and the amount of ad revenue associated with it.

". . . Like AOL, Yahoo has concluded that its original content performs and monetizes better and it's now in a push to create more of it. In an interview earlier this week, Yahoo Exec VP Hilary Schneider said Yahoo's goal is to boost home-grown content to 20% worldwide.

Both AOL and Yahoo have steadfastly declined to disclose the amount of diversity in their workforces.

Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. and Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., at Monday's four-hour field hearing in Los Angeles on the proposed Comcast-NBC merger. Skepticism was in the air. (Credit: Office of Rep. Maxine Waters.)

"Hard-Edged Inquiry" in L.A. on NBC-Comcast Merger

"The proposed $30 billion marriage between Comcast Corp. and NBC Universal isn’t 'Must See TV' for some black lawmakers, minority media executives, and groups who question the merged behemoth’s commitment to diversity in hiring and programming produced by and for minority audiences," Frederick Cosby wrote Tuesday for

"House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., led a hard-edged inquiry into the mega-deal Monday during a four-hour congressional field hearing . . .  in Los Angeles where 100 people got up and said their [piece] about the deal.

"Waters warmed up by scolding black organizations like the NAACP and black leaders like the Rev. Al Sharpton for receiving support from Comcast and backing the deal.

“ 'We appreciate the donations,' Waters said mockingly as the hearing began. 'Continue giving 50 cents to the Boy Scouts.' 

"Sensitive to the diversity questions, Comcast and NBC Universal officials announced a host of new or expanded minority initiatives before the hearing, according to Broadcast[ing] & Cable. Those initiatives include Comcast adding at least three independent cable networks with ‘substantial’ (minority) ownership over the next three years; the establishment of four external advisory councils that would represent black, Latino, Pacific Islander and other diverse communities; and that the merged corporation would spend at least $7 million more on advertising in minority-owned media next year.

"Critics of the deal dismissed the moves as trinkets. 'Would they (Comcast-NBCU) be doing this if we weren’t this?' Waters asked. 'It’s crumbs and they know it is crumbs,' Stanley E. Washington, president and CEO of the National Coalition of African American Owned Media, said at Monday’s hearing.

". . . individuals and groups like the NCAAOM, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and veteran producer Suzanne de Passe think the deal is anything but a step up.

" 'We have seen the devastating impact media consolidation has had on newsrooms and our members,' said Iv?°n Rom?°n, NAHJ‚Äôs executive director. 'Companies like Comcast and NBC may try to sell us on why consolidation will benefit our community. But we know better. It never happens once the deal is done. Instead, Latino journalists are laid off and our community continues to be marginalized in news coverage.' "

J-Educators Score Obama on Lack of Transparency

"The AEJMC is alarmed by restrictions to presidential coverage that at best curtail and at worst prevent U.S. citizens from understanding the critical issues in which this administration is involved," the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication said on Monday.

"We urge President Obama and members of his administration to fulfill the commitment 'to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government' described in his memo posted on

"Supporting a free, open and informed press with regular access to the president is the best way to support transparent governance in the best interest of a free and informed citizenry.

"Obama’s lack of presidential press conferences and his general lack of transparency and accessibility to journalists during his administration are in sharp contrast to the platform on which he ran for president in 2008."

AEJMC is a nonprofit, educational association of journalism and mass communication educators, students and media professionals.

Its statement wasn't the first time journalists have complained about lack of transparency in the Obama administration:


The lawsuit over "Crude: The Real Price of Oil" has drawn the attention of actor and director Robert Redford, who said an adverse decision would dramatically limit the ability of documentarians to independently disseminate information. (Video)

Documentarian Wins Round in Battle With Chevron

"Documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger will not have to turn over 600 hours of raw footage to Chevron for now, at least until the appellate court hears the merits of his appeal," Cristina Abello reported Tuesday for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

"A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York City (2nd Cir.) on Tuesday temporarily blocked a subpoena for Berlinger's uncut footage until the full court has a chance to hear the case, which will likely occur next month. The stay was granted early in the proceeding without the need for extensive arguments from the parties, with the rest of the hearing devoted to how urgently the appeal should proceed.

"Chevron and two of its executives subpoenaed all unused footage from Berlinger's 2009 documentary 'Crude: The Real Price of Oil' under a U.S. law that allows federal courts to order the production of evidence relevant to foreign proceedings.

"The oil company argued that the evidence is relevant to three different proceedings: a civil lawsuit brought by thousands of indigenous Ecuadoreans who allege the oil company is responsible for extensive pollution in the Amazon rain forest; a criminal case in Ecuador against the two Chevron officials; and an international arbitration proceeding over the same controversy.

Gary Coleman Specified No Press at His Funeral

Actor Gary Coleman's will specifies, "I direct my personal representative to permit no members of the press to be present at my wake or funeral," according to documents filed Tuesday in state court in Utah, the Associated Press reported from Salt Lake City.

"The documents, including the will, were filed in 4th District Court in Provo, where the 42-year-old Coleman died May 28 after suffering a brain hemorrhage. Coleman appointed friend Dion Mial as his executor."

Separately, Victor Perillo, Coleman's former agent, issued a statement saying he was "personally appalled to hear the news that individuals are selling photos of Gary in the hospital. This is unconscionable and despicable. I would like to praise all the reputable news organizations that declined the offers. I hope others will do the same out of respect and human decency." reported on Wednesday, "The Globe magazine has been outed as the tabloid that purchased photos of Gary Coleman’s last moments, and the price tag was $10,000.

"His ex-wife, Shannon Price, reportedly took photos of the actor as he lay in a coma in the hospital, then, shopped the pictures to various tabloid outlets.

"A magazine insider tells that the photos 'are so tasteless that none of the glossy magazines wanted to bid on them. This allowed Globe to get them so cheap.' "


George Foster Dies at 80, Had Multiple Media Roles

George FosterGeorge Jackson Foster, whose media roles included network television news producer, television station general manager and director of a university mass media program, died May 31 in Macon, Ga., at age 80. He had advanced diabetes, his son, Grant Foster, told Journal-isms. Services were held in Macon on Sunday.

A family obituary said Foster was renowned for his distinctive announcer's voice and oratorical skills.

The obituary said Foster taught at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., and was director of mass media programs at Fort Valley State University in Fort Valley, Ga.

While working as a producer at CBS News after the 1968 assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., he reported from Harlem in one part of a five-part series on the aftermath.

"He was based in New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco," the obituary said. "George was a professional photographer, working in photo journalism for VISTA. He was passionate about children's education and worked for the Children's Television Company as a contributing writer for Sesame Street and The Electric Company."

Jim Watkins, general manager of Howard University's WHUR-FM, told Journal-isms that in 1979-80, Foster became the first general manager of WHMM-TV, the university's television station. "He had the responsibility of bringing the station on the air," although his successor, Arnold Wallace, performed the lion’s share of the planning and brought the project to life, Watkins said.

Short Takes

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Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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