Members of Society of Professional Journalists Seeking to Rehabilitate Helen Thomas

You can't say journalists don't take care of their own.

Members of America's most hallowed journalism organization -- the Society of Professional Journalists -- are embroiled in a nasty food fight over disgraced journalist Helen Thomas and efforts by some SPJ members to rehabilitate her.  But in this fight, it's hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

At issue for the SPJ is whether it did the right thing by retiring its prestigious "Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement." Some SPJ members believe the journalism organization did the wrong thing. Accordingly, they intend to put forth the case for reinstating the prestigious award at the SPJ's national meeting this September.

The battle over whether to in effect rehabilitate Helen Thomas has pitted members of the SPJ against one another, resulting in an unseemly "baseball food fight," according to an article in Wednesday's Editor & Publisher by Rutgers University journalism professor Allan Wolper.

Sadly, however, it's hard to tell who the good guys are in this fight.  Leaders at the SPJ who voted to retire the Helen Thomas award apparently did so for all the wrong reasons; her anti-Semitism about Jews getting out of Israel, and Zionists controlling America, was the least of their worries, according to Wolper's eye-opening account about the controversy at embroiling the SPJ -- an organization that he points out is "the keeper of a Code of Ethics that is a template for journalism behavior."

Ethics aside, the SPJ is apparently a forgiving bunch when it comes to anti-Semitism.  It gave Thomas the benefit of the doubt after her first anti-Semitic outburst outside the White House last May during which she called for the Jews to get out of Israel and go "home."

Why was the SPJ so forgiving?

As Wolper tells it, it's because "the allegedly anti-Semitic remarks attributed to" Thomas were regarded as "a one-time misstep or slip-up resulting from 'questionable interview tactics,' according to an internal report by Joe Skeel, SPJ's executive director."

Then came Thomas' remarks in December at a conference of Arab journalists.  She said that "Congress, the White House, and Hollywood are owned by Zionists. No question."

"That did it," Wolper relates. "The SPJ executive committee in January voted 6 to 1 to retire the award, and the full board of directors went along, 14 to 7."

Incredibly, though, the SPJ leadership wasn't upset at Thomas' anti-Semitism.  As Wolper explains: "The rationale was stunning: There was a fear that future recipients would have to answer questions about Helen Thomas instead of talking about their lifelong accomplishments."

Wolper also relates that the SPJ's "decision (on Thomas), and the way it was handled, infuriated Christine Tatum, a former president of SPJ, and Ray Hanania, a Chicago columnist and coordinator of the National Arab American Journalists Association. Hanania sees the decision as an example of SPJ's alleged bias against Arab journalists, a charge SPJ fiercely denies."

Incredibly, the conduct of the SPJ's Thomas apologists gets sleazier.  Wolper says they're convinced the SPJ's leadership "buckled under pressure from Jewish organizations led by Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. They cite as proof a letter he wrote to SPJ castigating Thomas, which was printed online and in Quill magazine, SPJ's monthly publication."

Wolper also writes that Thomas' SPJ apologists "whisper that Hagit Limor, the Israeli born president of SPJ, is Jewish, a not-so-nice way to hint that she might not have been as fair as she could have been.  I have found no evidence to support that notion. Meanwhile, Limor, an investigative reporter for WCPO-TV in Cincinnati, has been bombarded with angry telephone calls from non-journalistic Thomas supporters."

None of this should surprise anybody who's noticed an anti-Israeli bias in the mainstream media over the years -- an issue that more than a few articles at this publication have addressed. 

The SPJ, incidentally, is no stranger to controversy. Less than a month after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, it passed a controversial resolution at its national convention in Seattle telling SPJ members how to cover the war on terror. Among other edicts, it advised against using the word "jihad" and said that stories should "portray Muslims, Arabs and Middle Eastern and South Asian Americans in the richness of their diverse experiences."

On the other hand, the SPJ offered no edict about portraying Jews, Israeli-Jews, or American Jews in the richness of their experience.

No surprise there.