Helen Thomas Retires in the Wake of Uproar Over Comments about Jews, Israel

AP

Helen Thomas
AP

Updated at 1:20 p.m. ET

Journalist Helen Thomas announced Monday she is retiring, ending her 50-year career as a White House correspondent in the wake of controversial comments she made about Israel.

Hearst News Service, which has employed Thomas as a columnist for the past 10 years, issued a statement announcing that her retirement is effective immediately.

Thomas has come under fire for saying that Israelis should "get the hell out of Palestine" and "go home" to Germany and Poland. Her remarks were captured on a video posted on the Internet last week, and Thomas was subsequently dropped by her speaking agency and excoriated by her colleagues and former White House officials.

Thomas started her career in journalism in 1943, according to her website, and began covering the White House in 1960. She will mark her 90th birthday on Aug. 4. Her long career has been celebrated in Washington; President Obama even surprised Thomas with cupcakes last year on her birthday, which is the same day as the president's.

A Sad Conclusion to a Great Career by Dean Reynolds
White House: Helen Thomas' Remarks "Offensive and Reprehensible"

While she ended her career as a hard news reporter a decade ago, Thomas has been reserved a special front-row seat in the White House press room. The Board of the White House Correspondents Association issued a statement today saying that, while she has not been a member of the WHCA for many years, Thomas' special status in the briefing room has helped solidify her as the "dean of the White House press corps." Consequently, the Board felt compelled the board to address Thomas' comments, calling them "indefensible."

"Many in our profession who have known Helen for years were saddened by the comments, which were especially unfortunate in light of her role as a trail blazer on the White House beat," the statement said.

The WHCA does not issue White House press credentials, but it does have jurisdiction over seating, and the organization was prepared to review the issue of Thomas' front row seat.

Time columnist Joe Klein wrote that Thomas should be stripped of her privileged seat but should allowed to keep "her First Amendment right to be as obnoxious as she wants."

Others were less forgiving.

Former Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said Friday that Hearst should fire Thomas, the Huffington Post reported.

"She should lose her job over this," Fleischer said. "As someone who is Jewish, and as someone who worked with her and used to like her, I find this appalling."

Former Clinton White House counsel Lanny Davis released a statement on Sunday calling Thomas an "anti-Semitic bigot."

On Friday, Thomas issued an apology for her comments on her website.

"I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians," Thomas said. "They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."

Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham H. Foxman said in a statement that Thomas' apology did not go far enough. In addition, in light of her comments, a high school in Bethesda, Maryland canceled Thomas' scheduled appearance as commencement speaker.

The White House today called Thomas' comments "offensive and reprehensible."

Watch Robert Gibbs' Comments on Helen Thomas

Watch the video of Thomas' remarks below:

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