Helen Thomas: A bitterly disappointing end to a trailblazing career

Getty Images: Helen Thomas retires after making controversial comments about Israel.Getty Images: Helen Thomas retires after making controversial comments about Israel.Oh, Helen.

We may not always have agreed with the questions you asked 10 presidents, often displaying your biases from the coveted front row of the White House press room. But we loved that you were one of the first women, certainly the most famous, to ask them. And we cheered when you didn't accept that your advancing age should keep you from doing what you love. All of which makes it so devastatingly disappointing that a trailblazing 58-year career should end so abruptly and bitterly at the age of 89.

Helen Thomas' remarks on Israel on video to an unsuspecting rabbi at a Jewish heritage celebration at the White House in May went viral this month, and the justifiable outrage that surrounded it led to her resignation from Hearst, where she worked as a columnist since 2000. Her speaking gigs dried up completely, too. When Rabbi David Nesenoff asked for the veteran reporter's thoughts on Israel, he was pretty shocked to hear her vitriolic plea for the country "to get the hell out of Palestine." When he followed up, she suggested Polish Jews go back to Poland and German Jews go back to Germany. Thomas, whose parents immigrated from Lebanon, did not seem to care that she was also talking to the rabbi's teenage son and friend, both wearing yarmulkes.

While the way she shared her views as well as the strong views themselves shocked the rabbi and many who have seen the video (which has more than 1.4 million hits on YouTube), it turns out they were pretty widely known among journalists in Washington, D.C. "She's always said crazy stuff," National Review Online columnist Jonah Goldberg told Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post.. "One reason she gets a pass is that there's an entrenched system of deference to seniority in the White House press corps. . . . This newfound horror and dismay that people are expressing about Helen Thomas are beyond a day late and a dollar short."

So now the special rules for Helen no longer apply. She is done, gone from the press room, and the traditional press had nothing to do with it. It says so much that her undoing came in the age of the viral video, by a citizen asking a question, video in hand, putting it on the Web for all to see and react to. It also speaks volumes about the relentless 24/7 news cycle, no longer controlled by the traditional media, that offers little room for anyone to survive a mistake.

That's why Rabbi's Nesenoff's words after learning of Thomas' resignation are especially poignant. He told Kurtz he hopes that Thomas engages in a broader discussion about the Middle East. "She can't retire from the human race," he said. "May she live for many years, and use that time to make this moment an important moment."