Helen and hell of a media freedom

By Hameed Abdul Karim

When we were young and foolish we thought the world of America. To us America could do no wrong and we wondered why the whole world was not becoming America. Trini Lopez's famous song 'I like To Be in America' was on our lips. And yes we hated the Russians and anybody who stood against the noble principles of the U.S.

We supported America in its war on Vietnam and couldn't understand why so many Americans were against the just war to eradicate communism in South East Asia and replace it with the rule of law, democracy and justice as the American leaders told us at that time. We went bonkers over the American Dream.

And, oh yes, the other thing we admired about America was its freedom of expression and its free media. You could say anything you liked and no harm would come to you unlike in bad ole commie Russia or China.

Helen Thomas: Her exit from the White House press corp raises question about media freedom in the United States

Now that we are older and less foolish, our faith and belief in the most 'just nation in the world' has been shattered. We now know we had been conned …silly. The freedom of expression or America's free media was a big farce. This is well and truly demonstrated in the forcible resignation of that grand old dame of the White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) -- the redoubtable Helen Thomas -- for controversial comments.

She says she has quit voluntarily. But given the way things operate in Washington DC, don't be surprised if there was coercion employed to get her to resign. After all, the WHCA had announced it was thinking of stripping her of the position she enjoys in the group.

Helen Thomas rose head and shoulders above your average 'stenographer journalist' that the WHCA is. Not for her the political handouts. She had pummeled 10 US presidents with her firebrand questioning and none of them ever felt comfortable in her presence. Helen Thomas believed the media should serve the ruled and not the rulers. That, alas, was her undoing.

Let's examine the controversial statement she had made. What she had said was that 'Jews should get the hell out of Palestine and should return to Germany, Poland and the US or wherever they come from.' Now, what's so controversial about this statement? The whole world, except the Zionists of course, is saying just that. But then truth is a dangerous commodity in international affairs, especially when it comes to Israel.

If only Helen Thomas had said 'the Palestinians should get out of Israel and go to hell', no harm would have come to her, because that's the official line of the US plutocrats. Why, she would have been feted!
You would have expected President Obama to come to her aid. After all he was the one who had 'promised change you can believe in'. But his response was pathetic, to say the least. He termed her remarks as 'offensive' and 'out of line' and her 'resignation was the right decision'. Mind you, this comes from a man, who a little more than a year ago gave us so much hope of a world that would be run on the lines of justice. So much so, we forgot that he was a politician. Like most politician he conned us into believing him. But then that's the jolly part of democracy, isn't it?

Obama had an axe to grind. Shortly after he became US President, Helen Thomas had asked him if he knew of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons. Obama replied rather sheepishly 'I don't want to speculate'. Thomas later commented, "I did not ask him to speculate; he is supposed to know!"
Besides you would imagine that a man who has the power to destroy the world many times over and yet does not have the technology to stop an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico might have a feel of reality first hand. But sadly, that's not the case.

Helen Thomas' colleagues on the White House beat were no better in their take on things. They called her remark 'indefensible' and were considering removing her on the grounds that she was an opinion columnist and therefore should have no place in the front row seat in the West Wing briefing room. That was the best compliment they could have given Helen Thomas. Yeah, she was no parlour journalist like the rest of them! Helen Thomas was made of sterner stuff! And while we are at it let's hail the fictitious 'freedom of expression' in the great U.S. of A, shall we?

(The writer is the vice president of Sri Lanka-Palestinian Solidarity Movement)

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