WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas has just announced she is retiring, effective immediately, in the wake of recent controversial comments she made about Israel.
Thomas, who has covered every administration since Eisenhower and is a well-known fixture at White House news conferences and briefings, was videotaped last month saying Israelis should "get the hell out of Palestine" and go to Germany, Poland or the United States.
A daughter of Lebanese immigrants, Thomas has become increasingly outspoken on issues related to the Middle East in recent years. But after the video of her latest comments began circulating on the internet last week, she apologized.
Asked about her remarks Monday morning, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called them "offensive and reprehensible." He said Thomas' words "do not reflect certainly the opinion of most of the people here and certainly not of the administration."
The White House Correspondents' Association also put out a statement:
"Helen Thomas' comments were indefensible and the White House Correspondents Association board firmly dissociates itself from them. 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.
While Helen has not been a member of the WHCA for many years, her special status in the briefing room has helped solidify her as the dean of the White House press corps so we feel the need to speak out strongly on this matter.
We want to emphasize that the role of the WHCA is to represent the White House press corps in its dealings with the White House on coverage-related issues. We do not police the speech of our members or colleagues. We are not involved at all in issuing White House credentials, that is the purview of the White House itself.
But the incident does revive the issue of whether it is appropriate for an opinion columnist to have a front row seat in the WH briefing room. That is an issue under the jurisdiction of this board. We are actively seeking input from our association members on this important matter, and we have scheduled a special meeting of the WHCA board on Thursday to decide on the seating issue."
Thomas, who will turn 90 on August 4, began her career as a journalist at United Press International in 1943. She became a columnist for Hearst newspapers in 2000.
Until the interview with rabbilive.com, she had been scheduled to speak at the June 14 graduation at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Md. Principal Alan Goodman canceled plans to have her speak over the weekend.
On Friday, Thomas posted an apology on her website:
"I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. 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."