89, and it’s not so fine


June 9
I’m saddened, but not surprised, by the resignation of
legendary A.P. White House Correspondent Helen Thomas, who quit in the wake of
remarks she made about Israel. Her suggestion that Israel should ‘…get
out of Palestine’ and its inhabitants return to their countries of origin
provoked an understandable outrage. As a result, a stellar career and
reputation has been tarnished.

Ironically, though, her remarks didn’t kill Helen’s career.
Her unwillingness to retire did. One has to know when to say when, and Helen
didn’t.

I know 89. My mom passed away at the age of 89 and my dad is
a very feisty 89. Eighty-nine is no picnic. From what I’ve seen of 89, it’s a
time in life without filters.

My mom was a great example. Up until she reached the age of
80, my mom would have qualified as a saint. She never hesitated to help others
or speak well of them. Once she hit 80, though, all bets were off. As her health
and quality of life declined so, too, did the filters. All of a sudden, people,
places and things she used to either praise or at least ignore, became front
and center for a vitriolic tirade. At the end, she was reduced to merely
registering her contempt with the sorry state of the world and the individuals
who had ruined our country (note: she would have had a field day with Tony
Hayward of BP).

My dad is different. He’s extremely sharp mentally and
physically as he nears his 90
th birthday. What’s changed, though, is
his awareness of what is and isn’t appropriate to say in public places. And,
that can cause challenges for a man whose political views make Rush Limbaugh
seem like a bleeding-heart liberal. When we take ‘pop-pop’ out to lunch or dinner,
for example, our entire family is on high alert. We never know if he’ll make a
pass at a waitress, posit his views about Brown vs. the Board of Education of
Topeka, Kansas, or just hurl invectives in the general vicinity of any TV set
near the bar.

Helen Thomas said what was on her mind. She said what had
always been on her mind. But, her internal filters had always prevented her
from say anything in public. Then, along came 89. And, it wasn’t so fine.

Knowing when to say when is critically important to one’s
image and reputation. Now, instead of being remembered for covering every U.S.
president from JFK to Obama, Ms. Thomas will instead, be vilified as the
reporter who told Israel to get out of Palestine.

14 thoughts on “89, and it’s not so fine

  1. Sure, entertainers or “ordinary people” don’t have to worry about saying the wrong thing the way politicians or journalists do. But we all have a responsibility to society in our actions.
    Example: Last month my mother-in-law’s partner voluntarily gave up the keys to his car. I’m proud of him for not letting ego, vanity or diminishing faculties get in the way of public safety.

  2. Thanks Linda. You’re too kind. Re: Reagan, there’s no doubt he was already suffering some of the early symptons of Alzheimer’s in his second term. Ego and vanity stand in the way of many people who simply refuse to read the proverbial handwriting on the wall. Like you, I wonder if my time is nearing.

  3. No argument, Ken. As I wrote, those were probably Helen’s feelings all along. Being 89, though, eroded the filters that had once prevented her from uttering such inappropriate nonsense. I have no sympathy for her plight. I do think it’s sad, though, whenever anyone refuses to accept his or her mental and physical decline and sticks around too long. That’s when the image and reputation damage occurs. And, that was the point of my blog.

  4. Brilliant post, Steve, and right on the money. As much as people lauded President Reagan during his tenure, from what I’ve been reading there were problems early on due to age. It’s sad, yet a fact of life. I’m wondering now when my filter will be gone – maybe it already left!

  5. RepMan,
    It wasn’t just her saying that Israel should “get out of Palestine,” but that “they should go back to Germany and Poland,” seemingly glossing over why they “left” those countries. It wasn’t exactly a choice. Was this due to old age, or her real opinion that she’d always had in her heart? I guess we’ll never know. But as someone whose relatives “left” Lithuania by being huddled together with their fellow villagers, shot, and dumped in a ditch, I have trouble feeling sympathy for her.

  6. Good point, Peter. But, George Burns, Betty White and other ‘seasoned’ entertainers don’t have to worry as much about saying or doing the wrong thing. It’s completely different in politics business or, in Helen’s case, journalism.

  7. Very good post, Repman. I agree….you gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.
    Three years ago, I saw Charlie Rangel address a group of real estate developers. He’d just regained the Ways & Means chairmanship and was acting very pleased with himself; you could see a sense of entitlement practically dripping off the man. Now…80 years old, branded as a crook, his power stripped away, a tattered legacy, desperate for one last hurrah…pathetic.
    The positive is that for every Helen Thomas or Charlie Rangel, there’s a Betty White representing the flip side of the equation.

  8. I totally agree, Abbie. Inappropriate remarks at any age are wrong. Helen Thomas paid the price.

  9. Because of her age, she should have known better. Yes, we tolerate the outbursts from our elders (and our juniors for that matter), but it doesn’t make it right.

  10. There’s nothing sadder than sitting in a meeting with someone who is clearly past his or her prime. I’ve been in some with old timers who do nothing but reminisce about the good, old days. In others, old timers will literally nod off in meetings. In both instances, the individuals in question were undermining their career reputations. It’s best to go out on top.

  11. You’re 100 percent correct, Goose girl. Nana would definitely give Tony Hayward his comeuppance.

  12. It’s a shame that Helen Thomas’ long and illustrious career had to end on such a sour note with her totally inappropriate comments. I agree with you, Rep, that people need to know when to say when…which is another reason why Supreme Court Justices should not be allowed to have the job for life. either.
    Also, I am sure that others in the Washington Press are happy to see Thomas go because of the “two sets of rules” — one for her, one for the other journalists — that the Administration seemed to follow.

  13. Nana’s favorite word in her late eighties was “disgusting” the weather was disgusting, the politicians were disgusting and I bet she would be very upset about those a holes from bp—she would tell tony hayward to go scratch with a broken bottle!!