As Helen Thomas exits journalism stage in controversy, a new question arises: Who's next?
Stepping down as media condemnation grew over her comments that Jews should leave Palestine and go back to lands where they have been persecuted -- Germany and Poland among them -- Thomas closed a half-century of often-distinguished work covering the executive branch with one of the worst finishes possible.
As friends and foes alike pile on with their analysis, I'm left with one pressing question:
Because, if Thomas' awful comments about Israel warranted her removal -- as at least some critics suggested -- I think there's a few others working in big media who deserve a second look, too.
First on my list is MSNBC commentator Pat Buchanan. Why a liberal-leaning cable newschannel continues to employ a guy who suggested Supreme Court nominees Elena Kagan was lesbian because she played on a softball team in law school amazes me.
But, as I have so often said about such issues, while individual comments matter, history matters even more. Buchanan's race-baiting and barely disguised prejudice has been a sore point with me for years; in 2008, the National Association of Black Journalists gave the pundit its Thumbs Down award for columns such as "A Brief for Whitey," where he asserted white people were tired of racial minorities complaining about racism. In another column, "The Way Our Worlds Ends," he predicted disaster from the nation's increasing diversity due to birth rates among people of color in America.
In 2009, during the fight over Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotamayor, he criticized her for using children's books to learn the intricacies of proper English on C-SPAN -- despite his long record of criticizing Hispanic immigrants for not learning English and the nominee's achievement of finishing first in her class at Princeton.
This year, in pushing against the Kagan nomination, he noted that her confirmation would mean 33 percent of the judges would be Jewish (noting only tangentially that the last five confirmed nominees have not been Jewish). And of course, there his assertion that Kagan's softball photo is some secret signal that she's gay.
Unfortunately, this is something MSNBC hears all the time -- mostly after Buchanan says something awful -- and they have decided to ignore it. But it seems to me that its time for the former Nixon aide to take his crazy uncle act elsewhere.
Others have seen Thomas' fall as an example of the danger inherent in staying in a high-profile journalism job too long. The New York Times and Washington Post both ran stories saying the columnist got away with asking opinionated questions that reporters couldn't (though some critics have said she often asked questions that challenged powerful politicians in ways other journalists wouldn't). The Post story quoted one sourcs accusing her of delivering unhinged rants.
Such reminds one of the occasional grousing which follows around CNN mainstay Larry King and 60 Minutes columnizer Andy Rooney (William Shatner's new CBS sitcom even plays up his character's hatred for Rooney). But it's always tough to argue that a media star with lots of fans is getting too old to do their job anymore -- especially when, like King and Rooney, what they do is tougher than it looks.