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July 21, 2013

A Tribute to Helen Thomas

July 21, 2013

Sadly the renowned journalist Helen Thomas passed away on Saturday at the age of 92. In the following two videos we see Helen help Colbert roast Bush at the legendary White House Correspondents’ dinner in 2006 and, in 2010, in a Real News interview, we see her defend herself admirably after her resignation. For more of Helen on the Real News see here or for more on her passing see the following by Ralph Nader: There will Never be Another Helen Thomas.

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White House journalist Helen Thomas remembered as a trailblazer

Alex Wong / Getty Images file

Veteran reporter Helen Thomas (C) asks a question to U.S. President Barack Obama during a news conference at the East Room of the White House May 27, 2010 in Washington, DC. Thomas passed away Saturday at age 92.

By Andrew Rafferty, Staff Writer, NBC News

As news spread of Helen Thomas’ death Saturday, journalists, politicians and admirers paid homage to the trailblazing reporter who was a fixture at White House daily briefings for decades.

“Michelle and I were saddened to learn of the passing of Helen Thomas.  Helen was a true pioneer, opening doors and breaking down barriers for generations of women in journalism,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.

“She never failed to keep presidents – myself included – on their toes.  What made Helen the ‘Dean of the White House Press Corps’ was not just the length of her tenure, but her fierce belief that our democracy works best when we ask tough questions and hold our leaders to account,” he added.

Former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton said in a statement that Thomas was “a pioneering journalist” who added “more than her shares of cracks to the glass ceiling.”

“Her work was extraordinary because of her intelligence, her lively spirit and great sense of humor, and most importantly her commitment to the role of a strong press in a healthy democracy,” the Clintons said in the statement.

Female journalists took to Twitter to thank the woman who many said helped shatter the perception that political journalism was a profession only suited for bourbon-quaffing men.

“Helen Thomas made it possible for all of us who followed: woman pioneer journalist broke barriers died today,” tweeted NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell.

“Any woman who has had the privilege of sitting in the front row of the White House briefing room owes huge debt of gratitude to Helen Thomas,” tweeted Julie Pace, White House correspondent for the Associated Press.

“RIP Helen Thomas – died this morning at 92. Amazing trail blazer, fearless journalist and friend & mentor to so many women reporter,” Judy Woodruff, host of PBS Newshour, tweeted.

Thomas was also remembered fondly by those who faced her brash style of questioning in the White House briefing room.

“Rest in peace, Helen Thomas. First day I ever took the podium she came to encourage me,” tweeted Dana Perino, who served as press secretary to President George W. Bush.

She loved her job, and Thomas’ colleagues said it showed in all of the 49 years she spent as a member of the White House press corps.

“I asked Helen Thomas about her life choices she said, ‘I would still be a reporter. I consider that my greatest decision in life,'” tweeted CBS News White House correspondent Peter Maer.

Thomas career ended in 2010 when she abruptly retired after saying Israel should “get the hell out of Palestine.”

“Helen Thomas died Saturday in D.C. Glass ceiling breaking journalist–1st female Gridiron member. Later controversial. Rest in Peace,” tweeted Chicago Sun-Times Washington bureau chief Lynn Sweet.

“Women and men who’ve followed in the press corps all owe a debt of gratitude for the work Helen did and the doors she opened,” White House Correspondents Association President Steven Thomma said in a statement. “All of our journalism is the better for it.”

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Related:

Arab TV star Abbas al Nouri of Syria grieves for his nation

The actor has criticism to go around — for Assad, the rebels and Arab leaders in general. Syria ‘lived through a large lie,’ he says, and is paying the price.

BEIRUT — Abbas al Nouri pauses as a particularly loud car roars past the cafe on the main thoroughfare. The overly solicitous waitress lingers, a hint of recognition in her eyes.
for video click here
At the table, the conversation inevitably focuses on Al Nouri’s native Syria.

“The father who cannot listen to his children is a failure, and this is something that destroys the family,” Al Nouri says, the metaphor describing the war pitting armed rebels against the government of President Bashar Assad.

“This revolution happened so that people could express themselves,” he continues, choosing words carefully between drags on his cigarette. “This regime, which is military in nature, did not have the culture to digest the idea that some people have an opinion.”

He shakes his head as he places his teacup on the table. “It couldn’t believe that it can be criticized, so it fired upon the people … and fired upon culture and knowledge even before it started firing at bodies.”

Al Nouri, 60, is known to millions across the Arab world as the star of the smash-hit Syrian television series “Bab al Hara” (“The Neighborhood’s Gate”). In real life he sports a full head of hair, unlike his character, Abu-Issam, a bald barber and doctor in an early-20th century Damascus struggling against French colonial domination. Though he was famous even before “Bab al Hara,” the show — no longer in production but seen year-round in syndication — cemented his reputation as one of the region’s top actors.

Al Nouri has worked steadily since his television debut in 1976, and holds the distinction of starring in the only Arab TV program to win an International Emmy Award. The Jordanian-produced “Al Ijtiyah” (“The Invasion”), a Palestinian-Israeli love story set during the 2002 Israeli assault on the Jenin refugee camp, captured the Emmy in 2008 for best telenovela.

On a recent afternoon, he sat down for an interview after one of his many road trips from Damascus to Beirut, where he was working on a new project, “The Passing,” described as a science-fiction series with social implications.

Politically engaged for decades, Al Nouri isn’t shy about criticizing Arab leaders generally or the Syrian government and some of its extremist enemies in particular.

“I don’t want to take away the freedom of people putting on the hijab,” he says. “But I do want to take away the covering of the brain.”

Asked whether he feared retribution for voicing his opinion, he brushed off any concern.

In his native Damascus, Al Nouri lives in Dumar, a suburb a mile from the presidential palace. The district is northwest of Qaymariya, where his parents still live in a “house like those you would find in the television series I work in,” he says, smiling as he remembers the open-courtyard stone homes of a bygone Damascus.

But the smile fades as he contemplates the new reality of his city, where the 10-minute drive to visit his parents has become an hour-plus slog “that makes you wonder how this city is living between one checkpoint and another.”

Checkpoints also slow the drive between Damascus and Beirut, but a heavy Syrian army presence has kept the route relatively safe. Al Nouri commutes to the Lebanese capital to work and to visit his children, two of whom live here at their father’s insistence. The third attends a university in the United States.

He’s forbidden his children to return to Damascus, he explains, not so much for “the oppression on the street as much as the fall of mortars right and left and the fear from the sky.” He says his parents are too elderly for him to consider moving. “My father is almost 100 years old and my mother is 90. I cannot leave them.”

And, he acknowledges, something else draws him back to the ancient capital.

“Even if I lived in a five-star hotel, being away from the site of the pain hurts even more,” he says. “So I don’t envy those who left, because of the worry they must be enduring.” He expels the smoke from his cigarette slowly, watching it waft away. “And I love Damascus.”

With production companies no longer working in Syria and with many artists in exile, the country’s once-prodigious TV and film industry has all but shut down.

Performers, writers and other creative Syrians have not been immune to the bloodshed. Each side in the conflict has targeted artists for their political stances, though that hasn’t discouraged Al Nouri from expressing his political views.

As for his fellow actors’ mass departure, he’s sympathetic but distressed. “This is painful for them, but also painful for me, because I have lost some real partners, and we need them and they are great stars.”

Al Nouri grew up under Syria’s Baath leadership, which seized power in 1963 and continues to rule. He became politically aware in his university days, when Arab nationalism, the fate of the Palestinians and the existential struggle against Israel were the defining issues on campus and on the street.

He was one of the youngest Syrians to speak on the radio in honor of the late Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian president, who is still revered in Arab nationalist circles even as Islamist movements have eclipsed his secular, pan-Arab vision. But Al Nouri eschews the nostalgia for those days that’s often heard among Arab intellectuals, instead describing the era as one when “freedom of expression was confiscated in favor of slogans.”

He picks up a spinach-filled fatira pastry before elaborating. “They would chant, ‘Our enemy is Israel!’ or ‘We want democracy!’ — when in reality it was the citizens who were the enemy. Whenever a new slogan would come, there would be new branches of intelligence to protect it.”

Here he pauses again, momentarily uncomfortable with what he wants to say. “I hope people don’t misunderstand me, but we did not deserve independence in the way it should have been,” he says, his voice taking on a regretful tone. Slogans often substituted for democracy and creation of a civil society in much of the Arab world. Syria “lived through a large lie, and what is happening now is an abscess that blew up.”

Like many Syrian intellectuals, he is torn about the revolution. He supports the goal of a more democratic nation, but knows the future could be even worse, perhaps some form of Islamist state or Syria balkanized into sectarian cantons, with foreign powers backing different factions.

“I can’t even look at a nation that still lives the problems that were finished 1,400 years ago,” he says, referring disdainfully to the ultraconservative Salafist rebel brigades that would seek restrictions on free speech and artistic expression. He says he fears “a nation that looks to history but not to the future,” adding, “I want my country to be completely free, with complete dignity.”

But after more than two years of a devastating war that has left more than 100,000 dead and millions homeless and reduced large swaths of the country to rubble, Al Nouri concludes, “People just want a solution, no matter how it is.”

The waitress approaches with knafeh, a cheese pastry dripping with sugar syrup. She finally blurts out what has been on her mind for the last 90 minutes: “Are you Abbas al Nouri from ‘Bab al Hara’?”

Bulos is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

Inside Syria: Dispatches from the Times' Patrick J. McDonnell Inside Syria: Dispatches from the Times’ Patrick J. McDonnell

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