An HBO documentary lauds the arrogant, smugly antagonistic journalist Helen Thomas, longtime lady dean of the White House press corps.
We’ve all seen Helen Thomas sitting at White House press conferences and customarily being called on to ask the first question, which she usually poses as some sort of test for the nation’s duly elected commander in chief. She’s as American as apple pie—or muggings.
The filmmaker, Rory Kennedy (youngest child of Robert and Ethel Kennedy), said, "She has a compelling personal story, she was very determined to be a journalist at a young age," Kennedy says. "I think it is also the story of the role of journalism in America and the role of journalism in a democracy," as quoted in Editor and Publisher.
Yes, but not in the way Kennedy thinks. Thomas’s story perfectly depicts the outsized egos of people in positions of power in any field. As Lord Action noted, power corrupts, and this is as true of journalists as anyone else. Thomas’s life shows the astoundingly self-righteous arrogance of journalists who fancy themselves the defenders of a public trust when in fact their real job is and always has been to sell ink-smudged paper or lure audiences to media outlets always filled with as many advertisements as possible. Hence:
The film takes square aim at Helen Thomas’ latest battles with President George W. Bush, opening with a press conference in which Thomas asked Bush why he wanted to go to war.
"Your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis," Thomas says in the clip. "Every reason given has turned out not to be true. My question is, why did you really want to go to war?"
A question Bush deflected, claiming he did not want to got to war. "After that, I became persona non grata," she says in the opening piece of the interview with Kennedy. "There is a blackout now, I believe, until the end of his term."
There you have modern-day journalism in all its glory and flamboyant hypocrisy: the arrogance of a batty little crone thinking that she has a right to be called upon in press conferences in preference to the dozens of other reporters there, simply because she is older and more obnoxious than they.
Regardless of one’s opinion about President Bush or the Iraq War (both of which I have criticized extensively, as it happens), Thomas’s view of herself is spectacularly vain. Unfortunately, as this laudatory film demonstrates, it is the common attitude of America’s contemporary elites and one that they openly praise.