Another Nicety Returns With President Biden’s White House

Hat tip to Brad.

Not for the first time, and Lord knows it will not be last, I point out the changes made to this White House’s press operations.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki ended Tuesday’s press briefing with a quick exchange: “Thank you, Jen,” said Josh Boak, a White House reporter for the Associated Press. “Great,” replied Psaki. Then she put on her mask and headed out.

Those four words signaled the resurrection of an old White House briefing room tradition — observed under both Democratic and Republican administrations — in which the press secretary awaits the nod of the attending AP reporter before closing the book. (The privilege was initially assigned to the senior wire correspondent, but it eventually turned into an exclusively AP role.) Whereas her predecessor, Kayleigh McEnany, often ended briefings with scripted attacks on the media, Psaki has embraced a custom that accords the media a voice in the management of the briefing room.

George Condon, a National Journal White House reporter on the beat since 1982, described the traffic-cop role of longtime United Press International reporter Helen Thomas: “Before she would say, ‘Thank you,’ she was in the first row and she would glance around to see if there were hands still up because she didn’t want to cut it off before people had a chance to ask questions,” Condon said. Terence Hunt, a former AP White House reporter, tells us that the practice goes back at least 75 years, citing a 1946 book by longtime UPI reporter Merriman Smith, titled “Thank You, Mr. President” in reference to Smith’s role in closing out presidential news conferences.

I can not underscore how very much this change means not only to me, but others who want the common-sense nicety returned to our government.

This subject with the AP harkens back to the decades, as noted in the story, when some respect and decorum were overlaid on the issues and politics of the time. It may seem quaint, but when they are gone, as witnessed by the last four years, the outcome is awful, ugly, and ultimately dangerous to our democracy.

As I read the article I recalled two women who made the press pool at the WH so professional and honed their questions to reflect either the issue of the day, as with Helen Thomas

…or at times to what the nation needed to have an answer to regarding a story from ‘page 9’ which Sarah McClendon tried to ferret out of the press secretary.

I recall in high school watching coverage of a press briefing and McClendon is called upon. Her voice filled that room and Jody Powell, President Carter’s Press Secretary, was either not trying to take her seriously or dodging the topic—I forget which. But she bored in with even a louder voice and peppered with a follow-up that must have stung like buck-shot. That made an impact on me.  She was a nice person by all accounts but determined to do her job. 

And the press secretaries knew that and respected it.  Not only from her but from all those who worked in the press room of the White House. That working relationship, even though both sides have well-defined roles, was lacking in the past four years. That substantive change is what I so very much welcome in President Joe Biden’s White House.

Helen Thomas Speaks Her Mind About George Bush

Today America lost Helen Thomas. She was one of a kind, a legend in journalism.

Famed Reporter Helen Thomas Dies

helen_thomas

It is with sadness that we find out this morning that Helen Thomas has died at the age of 92.  Thomas was considered the dean of the White House press corps, as she was the longest-serving White House journalist. She reported on administrations since 1960, when she began covering then-President-elect John F. Kennedy and his family.

I have admired and respected Helen Thomas all my life. She demonstrated what a tenacious, and credible White House reporter is all about.

When I was a teenager, and started watching the presidential press conferences there was always the first question coming from Thomas.  And it was never a softball, but rather one that at times set the tone for the rest of the conference.  She was never shy about finding out the truth, and holding leaders of this country, regardless of party, to the same standard.  Do not cover, dodge, and weave.  Instead speak the truth to the nation.

She set a standard that remains the epitome of what being a White House reporter is all about.  May she rest in peace.

 

 

Helen Thomas And The Middle East

I have always loved Helen Thomas, and still do. She is the epitome of what a reporter should be.  Her decades at the White House allowed for the nation to have better information, and closer scrutiny of issues that otherwise would not have been made as clear to the citizens.   

I am one of those who actually watched the press conferences from the days of President Ford onwards, and enjoyed them. When a teenager I thought asking a pointed question of a national leader was perhaps one of the best jobs one could have.  Over the years I was drawn to  Helen Thomas and her contemporary, Sarah McClendon, who  also had a very frank, and impressive journalistic style.  Those two ladies could make any press conference quite grand.  When it came to Thomas I am not sure what first attracted me.   It may have been her recognizable face, her first question to start the conferences, or her insistence at getting an answer to the actual question that she posed.  The one thing I quickly grew to love was that even in the midst of serious issues being discussed, when it came to Helen and Sarah, memorable moments were just waiting to happen.  Holding those we elect accountable can be informative and fun.  They proved it.

Then came the statement from Helen Thomas that to some has knocked the planet off its axis.

What Helen Thomas stated about who should live in Palestine last week is not that jarring if one thinks about it beyond the confines of the last roughly 60 years. I think the Balfour Agreement in 1917 was the start of a wrong path.   I am not sure, but suspect that Thomas might share that view.  Having said that, I think the whole Middle East is remarkable for the complexity of cultures and politics, and I wish for a resolution that is fair for those who were displaced and treated as second class people in their own lands.

But having stated  what I think, or what Thomas said, is not anti-Semitic. It runs counter to Israeli policy for sure, but that is different from being against a group of people. I differ with Israel all the time, but never have I made statements, or do I feel in my soul, anti-Semitic in any way. I just don’t.  I do have strong pro-Palestinian feelings, and know that a homeland with full rights is essential for long-term peace.  To pretend, as many do, that policy in the Middle East is sane or rational just because Israel desires it  is misguided and costly. That has been proved over and over again.

For Helen Thomas it was costly to say what she did.  She may not have been as artful in all her words as she might have been, but the foundation of the fact that Palestine was taken from the Arabs is not in dispute. 

Israel does now exist, and we need to work at resolving the issues that result from this fact. 

Just as those words are true, so are these that follow.

Helen Thomas will always be the reporter’s reporter.  She will also now be a lightening rod. 

All in all, a damn fine life she can be most proud of.

Rabbi Nesenoff Of Helen Thomas Fame Made Racist Video

Well…..well…..well…..

A stereotypical portrayal of Mexican-Americans that is  hard to get through as the video is just not funny.   Our little  Rabbi Nesenoff uses plenty of ethnic stereotypes to make this effort at humor. 

So let us review….

Making a historical statement about Palestine is bad.

Making an offensive video about Hispanics and Latinos is good.

Oy!

Video: Helen Thomas Birthday Suprise By President Obama

I love Helen Thomas, and so found this video today very touching to see.  On her 89th birthday, President Obama pays her special attention in the White House Press Room.

How White House Press Office Opened On Day One

This is just fun, and interests me, so here goes.

President Obama reported to work at 8:35 a.m. on Wednesday, walking into the Oval Office for the first time as the nation’s chief executive. Jeff Zeleny is following Mr. Obama’s first day on the job.

The lower press office on the first floor of the West Wing was locked until about 9 a.m., when Bill Burton, a deputy White House press secretary opened the doors. He sat in the office alone as a line of reporters waited for any morsel of information about the president’s day.

“If you guys give me 15 minutes, I will send something out,” said Mr. Burton, who wore a patient smile as he greeted a new correspondent from French TV and shook hands with veteran reporters like Ann Compton from ABC News who dropped by to say hello.

Fresh coats of paint – a buttery yellow – are covering the walls in some of the West Wing offices. The computers are freshly cleaned. (No, the “Os” are not missing from the keyboards.) And new members of the Obama administration are still trying to make it through security, even as others arrive with a few boxes and things for their desks.

“Welcome,” reads a red note card – with the presidential seal – that is placed on the computers. “For assistance with facility service issues, office layout and furniture please contact the Facilities Management Office.”

The new offices are designated not by nameplates, but by pieces of paper taped to the outside of the doors. The people who will be speaking for the president, who work in a small office just outside the press briefing room, include: Bill Burton, Josh Earnest, Jen Psaki, Tommy Vietor, Reid Cherlin, Ben LaBolt and Nick Shapiro.

At 9:46 a.m., another reporter walked into the press office.

“Good morning,” Mr. Burton said.

“I came to introduce myself,” the woman said. “I’m Helen Thomas.”

Helen Thomas Featured In New HBO Documentary

Helen Thomas is a national treasure.  I have long adored her spunk at dealing with Presidents, and her shrewd analysis of national politics.  Now comes a documentary “Thank You Mr. President: Helen Thomas At The White House” that examines her views on the role of White House reporters, and a look at her life of grilling the people who occupied the Oval Office. 

Helen Thomas gave her views about the men who served in the White House in the film.

On Lyndon B. Johnson: “Johnson was a man who certainly had to talk. He was very garrulous, in a sense, and he also very self-protective. He always would say, ‘Now, you know that’s off the record.’ At the same time, you also knew what he wanted you to write what you were seeing and hearing, but not attribute it to him. So we played the game.”

On Richard Nixon: “Once you lie, your credibility is shot. And, I really think if you lie too many times, then it’s all over. I believe the people have a right to know almost everything.”

On Gerald Ford: “Gerald Ford was gentle, very kind. His great aspiration was to be Speaker of the House. He never really aspired to be President, but lightening struck. He turned out to be a good president because he really restored confidence in the Oval Office and a sense of security in the country after the Watergate scandal.”

On Jimmy Carter: “Jimmy Carter is a very spiritual man. I think he almost missed his calling. He would have been a great minister. I think his greatest contribution to the country is that he made human rights a centerpiece of his foreign policy.”

On Ronald Reagan: “[His advisors] taught him to say, ‘This is not a press conference.’ And, they had him quite trained on that. And, one day, we asked him about what was happening, and he said to us, ‘I can’t answer that.’ We said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Because they won’t let me.’ And, he pointed to Baker, Meese, and Deaver, standing behind, very grim. ‘They won’t let me.’ And I said, ‘But, you’re the president!’”

On George H.W. Bush: “I think at the tale end, both he and Mrs. Bush began to really think that we were the cause of all their troubles. So the press was not liked at all.”

On Bill Clinton: “President Clinton didn’t understand that he was being denied his legitimacy as President by the ultra-right in this country, who never gave him one second, one moment where he could prevail. They were after him constantly, investigating him constantly .. I don’t understand how he possibly could’ve taken what he took. He was asked so many personal questions that I’ve never – no president has ever been subjected to that kind of tyranny.”

On George W. Bush: “When George Bush first became president, I think I attended two or three news conferences with him, and then I did get another question in, and there’s a blackout now, I believe, until the end of his term.“

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