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Howard Kurtz on Newsweek bidders, Helen Thomas gaffe, Gore breakup coverage

Columnist denounced

Thomas has covered the White House for decades.
Thomas has covered the White House for decades. (Alex Wong - Getty)

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Helen Thomas has sparked a furor by declaring that Jews should abandon Israel. In a video posted last week on a site called RabbiLIVE.com, founded by a Long Island rabbi, the Hearst Newspapers columnist, who's covered the White House seemingly forever, tells an unidentified interviewer that Israelis should "get the hell out of Palestine."

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Asked where they should go, Thomas, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, says: "Go home. Poland. Germany. And America and everywhere else."

In a statement, B'nai B'rith President Dennis Glick calls Thomas's remarks "contemptible," saying: "Her distortion of historical reality is astonishing. Her call for Jews to return to Poland and Germany -- site of the Nazi genocide, the worst genocide in modern history -- is beyond offensive."

Former Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told me that "Hearst should let her go. She should not get a pass for saying something so terrible and offensive."

Former Clinton White House aide Lanny Davis accused Thomas of "an anti-Semitic rant" and asked whether the White House Correspondents Association would yank her credentials "if she had asked all blacks to go back to Africa."

Reached at home, Thomas, 89, said: "I'm very sorry for my remarks. I think I crossed the line. I made a mistake."

Celebrity breakup

It was being covered, a longtime aide to Al Gore noted, like Brad and Angelina had called it quits.

The news that a man who left public office a decade ago was splitting up with his wife -- without any hint of scandal -- landed on the front page of The Washington Post and USA Today, on all three network newscasts, on all manner of cable shows. But why?

The answer is that the saga of Al and Tipper has struck a cultural nerve, not least with the people who chronicle such things.

"The news came today as a shock," said NBC's Brian Williams. "Just a few days ago, they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary," said ABC's Diane Sawyer. And if the Gores couldn't make it, writes Melinda Henneberger, editor in chief of Politics Daily, "what, if anything, does that mean for the rest of us?"

Of course, journalists excel at larding a gossipy tale with all kinds of social significance to justify their involvement. Thus, the New York Times quoted McGill University's Gil Troy as saying that in seeking a divorce, the former vice president and his wife are committing "the iconic baby boomer act." Well, maybe. Or maybe they are just another unhappy couple who drifted apart.

That is the problem with what passes for media analysis on this story: No one, especially the talking heads, really knows what happened. Newsweek's Howard Fineman called the Gores an "odd couple" whose marriage seems "the quirky, unstable leftover of their youths in the capital." One conscientious objector, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, insisted we should "just leave these people alone."

There were the inevitable comparisons to the Clintons -- Bill and Hillary's marriage was the one that was expected to implode after the Monica Lewinsky fiasco, while the Gores were portrayed as the role models: solid, stable and seemingly immune to such temptations as a thong-snapping intern delivering pizza.

In the Facebook age, we all think we "know" our politicians. But whatever the carefully constructed image, friction in a marriage can remain safely hidden from public view.

What made the split an ideal television story was The Kiss -- the convention lip lock in 2000 that the media hyped into a turning point, and which now provides a poignant video loop for a failed marriage.

After coming within a few chads of the presidency, Al Gore has been in the public eye only intermittently -- his film "An Inconvenient Truth" capturing an Oscar, his climate-change campaign winning him a Nobel Prize -- while Tipper Gore, who once led a crusade against raunchy lyrics, has receded from the spotlight.

That makes the media fascination with the politician turned Silicon Valley entrepreneur hard to explain. Gore is a former reporter who never seemed that comfortable around reporters and who has always kept his emotions in check. Unlike the recent breakups of John and Elizabeth Edwards, or Mark and Jenny Sanford, there was apparently no extramarital soul mate involved. Yet many journalists insisted on casting the dissolution of the marriage as a sign of the times.

It isn't that they care deeply about Al Gore, but that they view the story through a personal prism.

Howard Kurtz also works for CNN and hosts its weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."


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