SPJ Retires Helen Thomas Award

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    NEWSLETTERS

    WireImage
    Helen Thomas during 15th Annual GLAMOUR Women of the Year Awards - Red Carpet at American Museum of Natural History in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage)

    The Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award won't even last as long as its namesake's lifetime.

    The Society of Professional Journalists, which has given out the award since 2000, decided Friday to retire the award following complaints about it after Thomas' remarks last year regarding Jews in Palestine.

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    Veteran journalist Helen Thomas was honored by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee last night. The Amb. of Lebanon, former Sen. James Abourezk and perennial presidential candidate Ralph Nadar feted the longtime White House correspondent who resigned after making controversial remarks about Jews in Palestine earlier this year. (Published Wednesday, Jul 6, 2011)

    The SPJ decided not to rename the award or take the columnist's name off of it, but rather to send it into retirement.

    That's not where Thomas is headed, however. The 90-year-old veteran newswoman recently began writing a column again -- this time for the Falls Church News-Press. Upon announcing Thomas' return to print, News-Press founder, owner and editor Nicholas Benton said he was "honored" to give Thomas "the proverbial 'second chance'."

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    "She is progressive, and following my more than eight hours of direct, one-on-one talks with her since the events of last June, I remain firmly convinced that she is neither bigoted, nor racist, nor anti-Semitic," Benton wrote. "Her remarks in June were in response to a question about Israel, not Jews, and were intended to mean that in these times, Jewish people are free to live wherever they wish, because the era of anti-Jewish persecution is ended. That was not adequately expressed because of the impromptu nature of the incident."

    Many who complained to the SPJ didn't see things the same way.

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    "This episode was a sad final chapter to an otherwise illustrious career as a trailblazer for women and minorities in journalism," wrote Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "Unlike her first off-the-cuff remarks into a camera, Thomas’ comments were carefully thought out and reveal a person who is deeply infected with anti-Semitism."

    The SPJ said that it believes Thomas has the right to free speech, no matter if it is considered to be unpopular, vile or is considered offensive. But the SPJ said the controversy has overshadowed the reason the award exists -- for a lifetime of contribution and service to the journalism profession.

    "No individual worthy of such honor should have to face this controversy," the SPJ said on its website. "No honoree should have to decide if the possible backlash is worth being recognized for his or her contribution to journalism."