On Enough Rope: Elders this week Andrew Denton spoke to legendary White House correspondent, Helen Thomas.
It was a remarkable interview. Thomas is a remarkable, strong, passionate and principled woman.
View the whole interview if you can find it – probably on DVD in a few months. We can’t find a repeat or any grabs on YouTube.
There are a couple of very short video excerpts on the Enough Rope website, including what she says about the fallout from calling Bush “the worst president in all of American history”.
Here is an audio excerpt of the final few minutes from the point where she talks about the White Press press briefing, just a few weeks ago, during which she famously questioned Bush’s admission that he had okayed torture. She goes on to berate the American press for their complicity with the Administration, and their abject failure to carry out their responsibility as journalists, their failure to ask “why”.
It’s very strong and stirring stuff.
Here is the transcript of that section. The full transcript is available on the ABC website.
ANDREW DENTON – VO: In April 2008 Helen’s frustrations boiled over publicly after she questioned an admission by President Bush that he knew about torture being used by the US Army, contradicting his claim of many years that he had no knowledge of it.
[Clip - Helen talking in clip]
ANDREW DENTON – VO: When the White House Press Secretary dismissed Helen’s question and no one else said anything Helen turned to her colleagues and asked,
[Clip - Helen: "Where is everybody?"]
HELEN THOMAS: I turned to my colleagues. You know, you’re a reporter. When you’re out there you’re asking your own question, right? You don’t expect the backup really. You your your that’s your problem. Ah you’re not ah if you’re asking it for help you you’re you’re finished. But I did not expe- I did expect I said, ‘Where is everybody” because I knew that every reporter in that room had heard over and over and over again, “We do not torture” and nothing in them reacted in anger and outrage that suddenly the President says, “Yes, I OK-ed it”. And no reaction. I mean you ca- how do you account for that as a human beings. Ever since Abu Ghraib revelations and so forth he has said for about three years now, “We do not torture.” He has said it publicly. This year he said it twice at two consecutive news conferences. His spokespeople have said it. “We do not torture.” Then he gives an interview to ABC Martha Raddich and he said he knew about the planning sessions and he for for torture and he approved it. Now when I confronted the Press Secretary at the White House I said, “What is this? You’ve been saying now for years you we do not torture and now the President says ‘yes’.” So all I can say is scepticism is the mildest term for your approach to these people who say why why why would you not be ashamed for your credibility, your probity, anything? How would you how could you do that? Why don’t you just tell the truth? Say ah I OK OK so they’re going to be that flamboyant about it but to to lose your sense of honesty.
ANDREW DENTON: Well how do you account for that? You believe that since 9/11 things have changed within the White House Press Corp is that right?
HELEN THOMAS: I believe they’re afraid of being unc- un-American, unpatriotic and I believe that they’re I don’t know this factually but I do think that their corporate heads in New York say why did you ask for that that question We don’t like the look on your face. Maybe you don’t get it in Australia but I think they get it here.
ANDREW DENTON: Is this a a time in American journalism or do you fear that this is a permanent change?
HELEN THOMAS: Oh I I I think it’s a degradation. I think it’s a default on the part of the reporters to not call call the hands of these people and say, “Look you said this yesterday and you’re saying this now. How can you how can you approach the American people with this?” We’re supposed to be an informed people. We can handle the truth.
ANDREW DENTON: Don’t most people expect their politicians not to tell the truth?
HELEN THOMAS: I don’t know most people and I don’t know what they expect but I don’t think they should have to expect lies.
ANDREW DENTON: It’s interesting and maybe this is my cynicism, and cynicism is not a great thing to have.
HELEN THOMAS: There is a perception of politicians. I know what you’re what you’re really saying.
ANDREW DENTON: Well an expectation be- it’s beyond a perception. It’s an expectation isn’t it?
HELEN THOMAS: And the expectation is usually fulfilled
ANDREW DENTON: What was it that Churchill sa-said? “A politician is asked to stand, ah hopes to sit and is expected to lie.”
HELEN THOMAS: Yes and they say the same thing about po- diplomats sent abroad to lie for their country, right?
ANDREW DENTON: Wha…
HELEN THOMAS: You know they’re not just lying to someone else, they’re lying to the world, they’re lying in our name and if they continue that we have no credibility. It’s more than the boy who cried wolf, it’s it’s that you have no credence at all as a country.
ANDREW DENTON: Of course ah Saddam Hussein lied and ah Malaki lied and ah Tony Blair lied. Why should why should America have standards that its rivals and opponents refuse to adhere?
HELEN THOMAS: Because we’re better, we think, because we have higher standards and because we don’t expect the best of them but we do expect the best of ourselves. We have put ourselves on a pedestal. We have a halo. We’re supposed to represent the best of mankind, mankind striving for even higher heights. I think most Americans feel a certain shame in the very fact that they can hardly go anywhere in the world and not be, you know, feeling that they’ve done a wrong thing and they’ve been shunned.
ANDREW DENTON: You’ve said that your heart bleeds every day for the timidity of the White House Press Corp.
HELEN THOMAS: I am shocked at their complicity with the government, ah the fact that they have gone along with a censorship of photos from the war. Everyone remembers from Vietnam the little girl, you know, a flame in Napalm and so forth. If the American people don’t see what we’ve done, what we do when we drop a missile on a house in Sadr City, then wh-what is it? Why are they being shielded? Why do editors and reporters shield us? It isn’t reporters, it’s the editors. They don’t want to offend. It’s better to have Britney on the front page, you get more play.
ANDREW DENTON: Can you ever see that changing? You come from a different tradition, can you see that tradition returning?
HELEN THOMAS: Of course. That’s on, that’s the only truism of life is change. The only thing that’s constant. Of course.
ANDREW DENTON: Is there not a different dynamic in play now. It’s tied to profit more than principle?
HELEN THOMAS: I think the dynamic of propaganda coming from from government, from a after a fear card has been played, it’s much more effective but if there are a lot of people out there, when I turned and said, “Where is everybody” to my colleagues, I got 50 bouquets of flowers and cards saying we’re here, we’re here.
HELEN THOMAS: So that was…it affected some people.
ANDREW DENTON: And when you’re gone and when you’re not doing this anymore, do you think there’ll be people that take up what you have done?
HELEN THOMAS: Absolutely. I mean, absolutely. I think that’s the role of the press and they’ll wake up, they’ll come out of their coma.
ANDREW DENTON: You’ve said you must never lose your weapon of scepticism. How do you keep it sharp?
HELEN THOMAS: How can you not? There’s so many things that need to questions. Throughout everything that goes on today, you say, “Why”? Ask why.
If a patriot is not someone who is a compliant yes-man for the President, whatever he does, but rather is someone who, for the sake of their country, has the courage and conviction to ask its leaders the tough questions, then Helen Thomas is a true American patriot – and, frankly, one of very few in the American mainstream media with the guts to be such a patriot.
[tags]Helen Thomas, Andrew Denton, Enough Rope, Elders, White House, press corps, press, media, Dana Perino, Bush, George Bush, US, USA, American, America, administration, mainstream media, torture, Abu Ghraib, Sadr City, terror, war on terror, patriot, patriotism, Vietnam, values, morals, ethics, costs, principles, standards, honesty, credibility[/tags]