Before Helen Thomas, other career-changing gaffes

Sunday, June 13, 2010; B04

"Tell [Israel] to get the hell out of Palestine. . . . Remember, these people are occupied, and it's their land, not Germany's, not Poland's. They should go home . . . Poland, Germany and America and everywhere else."

These few words were all it took to end the career of White House correspondent Helen Thomas after five decades covering presidents from John Kennedy to Barack Obama. Thomas is hardly the only figure undone by a spectacularly ill-advised, tone-deaf, insulting or untrue remark. But not all career-defining lines are necessarily career-enders. Some offenders bounce back, others rehabilitate themselves over time, others slowly disappear -- and none is ever quite the same.


"This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt, macaca, or whatever his name is. He's with my opponent. . . . Let's give a welcome to macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."

-- Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) at a 2006 campaign rally in Breaks, Va., referring to S.R. Sidarth, an Indian American Democratic volunteer.


"Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won't tell you. I just did."

-- Walter Mondale, accepting the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination.


"After extensive additional interviews, I no longer have the confidence in these documents that would allow us to continue vouching for them journalistically."

-- Dan Rather, retracting a 2004 CBS News story about President George W. Bush's National Guard service.


"They may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager. . . . But they are outstanding athletes, very God-gifted and wonderful people."

-- Al Campanis, general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, explaining in 1987 to "Nightline" why Major League Baseball had so few black managers.


"Follow me around. I don't care. I'm serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They'll be very bored."

-- Democratic presidential hopeful Gary Hart, daring reporters in 1987 to investigate his alleged extramarital affairs.


"Bitch set me up."

-- Washington Mayor Marion Barry in 1990, after the FBI stormed a hotel suite where he was smoking crack with a girlfriend-turned-informant.


"As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?"

-- Martha Coakley, U.S. Senate candidate from Massachusetts, speaking in January about Scott Brown's populist campaign.


"When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years, either."

-- Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), praising the career of onetime segregationist Strom Thurmond in 2002.


"I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinksy."

-- President Bill Clinton in 1998, denying his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.


"That's some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos and . . . that's some nappy-headed hos."

-- Radio host Don Imus on Rutgers University's women's basketball team in 2007.


"Don't worry, it's a slam-dunk."

-- CIA Director George Tenet, reassuring President George W. Bush in 2002 on the case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.


"I know that it's not possible that this child could be mine."

-- John Edwards, denying paternity of mistress Rielle Hunter's daughter in 2008. He later said he was the father.


"I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."

-- Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) on his voting record on Iraq war funding, during the 2004 presidential campaign.


"I'm not here to talk about the past."

-- Baseball star Mark McGwire, refusing to answer questions from Congress in 2005 about steroid use in Major League Baseball.


"She is a monster, too -- that is off the record -- she is stooping to anything."

-- Samantha Power, an adviser to then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, on Hillary Clinton in 2008.


"There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe."

-- President Gerald Ford, in a 1976 presidential debate with Jimmy Carter.


"Who am I? Why am I here?"

-- Adm. James Stockdale, Ross Perot's running mate, in the 1992 vice presidential debate.


"Every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence."

-- Secretary of State Colin Powell, addressing the United Nations on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in 2003.


"And we're going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan, and then we're going to Washington, D.C., to take back the White House! Yeah!"

-- Howard Dean, after losing the Iowa caucuses in 2004.


"I'd like my life back."

-- BP chief executive Tony Hayward, speaking May 30 about the gulf oil spill.

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