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Israel's occupation of Obama's Press Corps

By Yvonne Ridley

Hold the front page! The docile White House Press Corps has got itself all steamed up about something and finally taken a scalp. The Capitol Hill cocktail set who usually sit and preen themselves like pampered Pomeranians while asking pre-screened, pre-approved, President-friendly questions have forced a resignation.

What provoked them and who was their target? Was it one of Obama's aides caught lying, maybe some political sleaze or even another Watergate in the making? Could they have been making a final stand for journalistic integrity and freedom over the US Administration's plans to prosecute and imprison investigative reporters who refuse to reveal their sources?


Well, sorry to disappoint you but it was none of the above.

It seems that the most famous gaggle of journalists in the world finally got themselves into a lather about a comment made by one of their own against Israel. The target was, in fact, an 89-year-old columnist who has nailed more US Presidents with her hammer-blow questions than any other member of the WHPC.

The formidable (and now former) doyenne of the Corps, Helen Thomas, has now been forced to quit her much coveted front row seat from where she made no less than ten US Presidents sweat with her probing questions. Ms Thomas resigned just before the White House Correspondents' Association announced it was considering stripping her of her prime position. No doubt some of those responsible for this decision are the same gutless scribes who gave President George W Bush such an easy ride over Iraq, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, torture, waterboarding and other abominations.

If Helen Thomas had said, "Palestinians should get the hell out of Israel" there is no doubt that she would have been feted by those now lining up to throw her out. But she didn't. The redoubtable Ms Thomas, a lifelong critic of Zionism, said that Israelis should "get the hell out of Palestine" and return to Germany and Poland "or wherever they came from". (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnALLK5g–I&hd=1) The Hearst Newspapers columnist apologized almost immediately for her off-the-cuff comments made to a rabbi who was conducting a video interview with her outside the White House during a recent celebration of Jewish heritage. Now the decision to retire her, with immediate effect, has been announced by the company, which syndicates her column. The announcement was made just weeks ahead of her 90th birthday on August 4.

The board of the correspondents' association which gathered to consider its response to her controversial remarks issued a very wordy statement which claimed not to be "policing" the speech of its members but… her comments were "indefensible" and have prompted a special meeting to let members decide if she is to retain her special seat in the White House Press Room, something that is, apparently, within the remit of the WHCA to decide on.

What a gutless, feckless collective of cabestros (look it up). Within the last 10 days no less than 60 journalists on board the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla were shot at, abused, beaten up and robbed by the military representing the Zionist State of Israel. Was there one word of anger, one word of recrimination or any statement released by the White House Press Corps about the treatment of fellow journalists who were on board a series of ships attacked in international waters?

Israeli soldiers destroyed and stole the journalists' mobile phones, and confiscated video footage and photographic equipment. The later unauthorized use of journalists' footage showed the Israeli authorities' contempt for journalists and journalism. By showing old photographs and edited footage there was a clear violation of journalists' ethics. Such blatant attempts to control news coverage are nothing new, of course. The same strategy was carried out during Israel's last invasion of Gaza, but what do these Washington scribes know?

What they have proved by their swift action against Helen Thomas is that while Israel is engaged in a military occupation of Palestine it is also conducting a political occupation of the White House Press Corps. RIP freedom of speech in "the land of the free and home of the brave".

*Yvonne Ridley is a founder of Women in Journalism, European President of the International Muslim Women's Union and a member of the Respect Party. She also presents two political shows – the Agenda and Rattansi & Ridley – on Press TV.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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