Last night I was watching some of the commentary that followed President Obama's first primetime news conference. I skipped from CNN to Fox News Channel where O'Reilly was doing his shtick, a supercilious run-down on the "non-news" conference. To be air quote fair-and-balanced, he had Dick Morris and then Alan Colmes give their perspectives. Of course, if any guest is on "The O'Reilly Factor," then you know that it's his show. You merely have to show up, especially in the case of a liberal.
It was the segment with Alan Colmes, former also appearing sidekick to Sean Hannity, that stunned. O'Reilly took the opportunity to spend expensive airtime deriding White House reporter, Helen Thomas. He mocked her age, looks, and manner of speaking. "The White House press corps looked intimidated to me, except for what's her name, the old lady, Helen Thomas." His Helen Thomas impression was to throw back his head and scream, "Ahhh."
Said O'Reilly, "It's like the Wicked Witch of the East. You know, if I were Obama, I would have poured water on her and she would have dissolved." Colmes meekly replied, "Bill, it's not nice to impersonate an older woman like that. That's not nice."
O'Reilly let it slip in, "I know. She's a legend. But she actually asked a question, Do you think the Taliban is hiding in Pakistan? That was her question! So my question to you is, Why can't my mom ask a question?" Then moments later, he had on his sourpuss media critic, Bernard Goldberg, author of Bias, and the latest continuation on a theme, A Slobbering Love Affair, about the media's falling in love with Obama. That's not a far reach, Bernie.
Goldberg, whose face is always a bit pinched, as if he just stepped in a big dog pile, managed to get in his own dig about Thomas. When O'Reilly asked, "Was I too mean to Helen Thomas?" Goldberg replied, "Did you hear what question she asked. Could you tell us about the so-called terrorists. Let me say this. Helen Thomas' 15 minutes were up during the Lincoln administration."
This week we celebrate Abraham Lincoln's 200th anniversary of his birth. Goldberg is 63 and O'Reilly will turn 60 in September. Helen Thomas, who first covered the Kennedy administration, is 88-years-old and has covered ten presidents. They all qualify for AARP status, and given that shared identity, should be more than forgiving about seniority.
My first post on the Huffington Post January 2007 was an interview with Helen Thomas. I called it "Helen of Truth" http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nancy-snow/helen-of-truth_b_39203.html
Thomas, as the most senior White House reporter, is always seated front row right of the president. She is always called on, sometimes first, as a nod of respect to her long and storied career. I agree that her questions weren't her best, notably the so-called qualifier to terrorists and the obvious reference to Israel. But readers should decide, and not mean-spirited misogynists, whether or not Helen still deserves her 15 seconds, if not 15 minutes.
Here is the actual New York Times' transcript between Helen Thomas and President Obama:
OBAMA: All right. Helen. This is my inaugural moment here. (Laughter.) I'm really excited.
THOMAS: Mr. President, do you think that Pakistan and -- are maintaining the safe havens in Afghanistan for these so-called terrorists? And also, do you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?
OBAMA: Well, I think that Pakistan -- there is no doubt that in the FATA region of Pakistan, in the mountainous regions along the border of Afghanistan, that there are safe havens where terrorists are operating. And one of the goals of Ambassador Holbrooke as he is traveling throughout the region is to deliver a message to Pakistan that they are endangered as much as we are by the continuation of those operations, and that we've got to work in a regional fashion to root out those safe havens. They're -- it's not acceptable for Pakistan or for us to have folks who, with impunity, will kill innocent men, women and children. And you know, I -- I believe that the new government of Pakistan and -- and Mr. Zardari cares deeply about getting control of this situation, and we want to be effective partners with them on that issue.
THOMAS: Did you get any promise from them?
OBAMA: Well, Mr. Holbrooke is there, and that's exactly why he's being sent there, because I think that we have to make sure that Pakistan is a stalwart ally with us in battling this terrorist threat.
With respect to nuclear weapons, you know, I don't want to speculate. What I know is this: that if we see a nuclear arms race in a region as volatile as the Middle East, everybody will be in danger. And one of my goals is to prevent nuclear proliferation generally.
I think that it's important for the United States, in concert with Russia, to lead the way on this. And you know, I've mentioned this in conversations with the Russian president, Mr. Medvedev, to let him know that it is important for us to restart the conversation, about how we can start reducing our nuclear arsenals in an effective way, so that we then have the standing to go to other countries and start stitching back together the non- proliferation treaties that frankly have been weakened over the last several years.
After the exchange with Thomas, President Obama called on Sam Stein of the Huffington Post, thereby exalting Web-based media and the blogosphere over traditional print media. Those not called on included the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune or any reps from weekly news magazines.
Follow Nancy Snow on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drpersuasion