Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Doubting (Helen) Thomas & Reflecting on Her Demise

A lot of people are having fun at Helen Thomas' expense today. Andy Borowitz concocted this headline: Helen Thomas Named New BP Spokesperson.

She needed to resign. No question that her comments were shocking and offensive for a person of any age. The "ol geezer" alibi just won't cut it, even though we've all heard embarrassing comments emerge from the mouths of that-great-uncle-who-just-won't-shut-up. So Thomas, like Reverent Wright before her, is an embarrassment. I'm amazed that a person in so public a position has never slipped up so blatantly before.

But part of me feels very unclean about the viral nature of this instant trial, this "Gotcha" journalism that has now become so pronounced in the blogosphere. It reeks of what Jewish law calls rechilut, tale bearing. it is one of the worst forms of gossip (Lashon ha-ra), and it is gossip even if it is true.

Were Thomas already retired, it would be even worse. As it is, with her position of respect and prominence, someone presenting views like that is dangerous. So she needed to be exposed to her employers and stopped. But maybe the rebuke could have been done more privately - a tack also supported by Jewish sources.

I know and respect the rabbi who exposed Thomas. I've no doubt that he was as shocked as the rest of us by her words and he responded as I likely would have done. So I'm not calling him out on this (otherwise, I should have done it privately too!).

I'm just hoping we all can step back and not feel so smug that we may have "nabbed one." Anti-Semites won't disappear if we take them out, one at a time. And I'm not convinced that Thomas was always an anti-Semite, or is right now, even if what she said was clearly vile and anti-Semitic.

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