Helen Thomas and Oedipus

by A. Jay Adler on July 21, 2013
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tech3On the CNN’s Reliable Sources this morning, new host David Folkenflik hosted three female journalists, including Judy Woodruff and Candy Crowley in considering the career and legacy of Helen Thomas. The entire discussion addressed Thomas’s groundbreaking career and generous influence on young women journalists like Woodruff and Crowley. Just before the end of the discussion, Folkenflick asked one question about Thomas’s career ending anti-Semitic comments. Woodruff characterized these comments as Thomas letting her views slip into her work. Thomas’s work over the last thirteen years of her career was, in fact, commentary, so the letting slip was not of her views, but of a kind of view.

That was all. That was the coverage of the rank anti-Semitism that Thomas propounded and ignorance she demonstrated on multiple occasions after the initial videotaped comments that brought her career crashing down.

CNN bills Reliable Sources as “one of television’s only regular programs to examine how journalists do their jobs and how the media affect the stories they cover.”

Utter nonsense in this case. There was no examination of journalism here, only journalists praising their own and themselves. There was no consideration of “how the media affect the stories they cover,” only the media affecting the story by gross and conscious negligence of a crucial human element of the story.

On ABC’s This Week and NBC’s Meet the Press the story was no different. Journalists allowed their personal relationships to the subject to distort their obituary coverage, which they turned into inside clubhouse praise of a teammate. George Stephanopoloous made reference in a phrase to “controversy.” David Gregory actually quoted President Obama stating of Thomas that she would “ask tough questions and hold our leaders to account.” Gregory actually, embarrassingly followed that comment with an “Amen.”

Would these be like the tough questions that Gregory and others asked about Thomas’s anti-Semitism, like their holding her to account? What if she had been an office holder expressing the views she did?  Rank anti-Semitism covered up by rank cronyism.

In a month in which Yahoo tech reporter Virginia Heffernan brought low the literary mind by comparing it, as she confessed her lightheaded creationism, to mystical flakiness ungripped by reason, it serves as a tonic to recall the lesson of Oedipus and of all Greek tragedy, about the full accounting of a human life, about the significance of endings and of what, in classical tragedy, are known as hamartia and hubris.

Hamartia is an error in judgment. It is the hero’s tragic flaw. Hubris is the overweening pride that compounds the flaw. Oedipus did more of estimation in his life than even Helen Thomas: he saved Thebes by solving the riddle of the Sphinx and freeing the city from the Sphinx’s curse, for which he was rewarded with its kingship and the hand in marriage of Jocasta, its dowager queen. But Oeidpus was blind to his rash and proud nature and willfully refused the counsel of the differently blind seer Tiresias. He brought about this own demise and more tragically than might otherwise have needed to be the case.

Helen Thomas did not make one error, which sometimes may even justly be enough. On multiple occasions she denied the Jewish heritage in Israel, greater, actually than that of most other peoples in their homelands, and told them to “go back” to the European nations that had committed genocide against them. She spoke of Jewish control of finance, of Hollywood, of government – all the classic anti-Semitic demonization. Judy Woodruff sought to minimize, even disappear these sins by characterizing them, unspoken, as the product of Thomas’s Lebanese heritage, another one of those disingenuous maskings of anti-Semitism as only Mideast anti-Israel politics.

Oedipus was a king. He did great things. He ruled a great city. We do not remember him without remembering his end. He is as defined by his tragic end as anything. It is actually the value of his life, that it reminds us that we are accountable to the end.

As the closing chorus tells us:

You residents of Thebes, our native land,
look on this man, this Oedipus, the one
who understood that celebrated riddle.
He was the most powerful of men.
All citizens who witnessed this man’s wealth
were envious. Now what a surging tide                                     1810
of terrible disaster sweeps around him.
So while we wait to see that final day,
we cannot call a mortal being happy
before he’s passed beyond life free from pain.

That is unless you have friends in the media to cover for you.

AJA

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