Education

Helen Thomas and What Not to Say Before a Commencement Speech

By Elizabeth Rich — June 07, 2010 1 min read

Former (as of a few hours ago) White House correspondent Helen Thomas for Hearst publications was scheduled to be the commencement speaker at Walt Whitman High School, in suburban Maryland, a week from today, but the school has rethought its decision, according to a number of sources, including the Washington Post.

Thomas’ offensive comments about Israelis, following the country’s attack on the Turkish flotilla—"[They] should get the hell out of Palestine.” "[They] should go home [to Poland, to Germany, and America, and everywhere else.]"—which she shared with a rabbi caused enough of a stink that not only did former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who is Jewish, step forward to condemn her remarks, but the White House Correspondents’ Association considered stripping the close-to 90-year-old Thomas of her front-row press seat this morning. She announced her retirement before the White House essentially forced her to.

Walt Whitman High School’s website has no information about the speaking cancellation, but the Montgomery County Daily blog (whose editor is running for a county seat and, coincidentally got the principal’s name wrong) has a couple of quotes from the school and a parent. (The blog reports there was also a student campaign against her appearance brewing on Facebook.)

According to the blog, Dr. Alan Goodwin, Whitman’s principal, spoke to Thomas’ niece. “We had a mutual understanding about her not coming.”

In an interview, Whitman parent Raisa Slepoy said, "I don't know why anybody would ask a person like that to speak at a commencement ceremony . . . especially where there's a pretty large Jewish population." If Thomas had appeared, Slepoy said, there would "be a lot of people booing her off the stage. . . . It would be an embarrassment." The remarks have "already stirred up the community quite a bit," Slepoy said, bringing up "bad feelings." Germany, she said, is not a Jewish homeland. If Thomas had appeared, Slepoy said, there would "be a lot of people booing her off the stage. . . . It would be an embarrassment."

Meanwhile, Fox News is calling for everyone to give the veteran journalist a break.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.

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