By: Dave Astor
The setting: American University’s art museum, where a cartoon exhibit about the current White House included many scathing drawings. The speaker: Helen Thomas, who drew a scathing picture of the Bush administration with a few well-chosen words.
The King Features Syndicate columnist and former UPI White House correspondent didn’t spare the media, either. “I do believe journalists have let the country down,” said Thomas, who was addressing Association of American Editorial Cartoonists conference attendees Thursday night. “They were cowed, and afraid to be called unpatriotic. The real journalists are the editorial cartoonists who don’t fear the truth.”
Describing the Bush administration, Thomas said it’s “running on empty and heading for collapse.” She added that the “invasion and occupation of Iraq — which didn’t attack us — was illegal, immoral, and unconscionable. George W. Bush struck a match inflaming the whole Mideast, and no one has laid a glove on bin Laden.”
Thomas also blasted secret overseas prison sites and Guantanamo, noting: “Detainees have been denied the right to appeal — a right that only goes back to the Magna Carta.” One result? “The U.S. is now the most despised nation in the world,” she said.
And Thomas criticized the Bush administration for giving the rich the biggest tax cuts, allowing 47 million Americans to have no health insurance, and for preferring “political appointees who are more loyal to the president than to this country.”
In short, “I can’t think of one good thing he’s done,” said Thomas, adding that she’s appalled that Bush doesn’t seem to be losing sleep at night about how disastrous things are in Iraq.
Later, during a Q&A session, a conservative cartoonist asked Thomas if she’s an objective journalist.
“Not anymore,” Thomas retorted. “When I was with UPI, it was ‘just the facts.’ Now I write a column.”
Thomas was also asked why White House correspondents don’t help each other with follow-up questions when the president gives evasive answers. “Everyone has their own questions,” she said.
Why aren’t Americans more outraged at Bush? “There’s no draft,” Thomas replied. “People don’t feel personally affected by the war.” She added that some Americans still believe the president’s rhetoric about how “they’ll come here if we don’t go there, which is the biggest bull I’ve ever heard.”
Thomas also offered anecdotes about some of the presidents and other politicians she’s covered since John F. Kennedy. She said JFK had “a ready wit,” and recalled once speaking to him about what would happen if Air Force One crashed. “Your name will be just a footnote,” was his joking gibe at Thomas.
Lyndon Johnson, she continued, took pains not to seem elitist. When a speechwriter put a Voltaire quote in remarks prepared for LBJ, the president instead attributed the same exact quote to “my dear old daddy.”
Thomas also related the story of how someone once thanked Henry Kissinger for saving the world. “You’re welcome,” replied the egotistic Nixon administration official.
Asked who she thought might make the best presidential successor to Bush, Thomas praised John Edwards for apologizing for his pro-Iraq War vote, offering a comprehensive health plan, and speaking about poverty. “But,” she added, “I think Hillary will get the nomination.”