Pssst, they still want a war 

Well, the elections are over and, as always, everything came out exactly as I thought it would, with the exception of a couple seats in the Oklahoma Legislature.

Actually, Metro Times goes to press on Monday night, so I don’t know any of the election results as I write this.

In any event, once we’re done celebrating Tweedledum’s breathtaking victory and/or mourning Tweedledee’s heartbreaking defeat, it might be good to remember that the Bush-Cheney administration still seems hell-bent on war with Iraq.

You may be partly forgiven for having forgotten this, if you depend on television for news. The invisible gatekeepers who decree what the talking heads may tell us evidently decided Americans can only cope with one major news story at a time. For a few weeks there, everything else was drowned out by the sniper, even for many days after the allegedly dastardly pair were caught.

Then, barely a week before the election, the networks suddenly noticed the nation was having one, but only after a prominent senator was turned into meat paste when his plane flew into a stand of pine trees.

Yet all this time, troops were still moving, war plans were being drawn up and the United Nations was being not-so-gently prodded into acquiescing in the war the Shrub has made it perfectly clear he intends to wage anyway.

Two weeks ago, I was in Washington and went to see Helen Thomas, a native Detroiter who went to our capital during World War II to be a reporter, and who has covered the White House since the day John F. Kennedy took office.

If you’ve ever seen a White House press conference, you’ve seen Thomas; the tiny lady, usually in red, in the front row. Normally, she asks the first question, and on many occasions, it has made presidents cringe.

From the Bay of Pigs to Vietnam to Watergate, she’s seen it all, and by this time, has a pretty shrewd notion of when our leaders are lying to us and when they are on the level. I wanted to know whether this could all be a bluff. Could Bush merely be saber-rattling in an effort to impress our friends, sober up our enemies and browbeat Saddam into cleaning up his act?

Sadly, her verdict was no. “They all mean to have a war,” she said over lunch on a gloomy afternoon. There was, she thought, no real opposition in the administration. “Everyone’s been told to get on board or else; my way or the highway,” she said.

Thomas thinks that is beyond appalling, and for the first time in her professional life, is finally allowed to say so. After more than a half-century as a wire service reporter (just the facts, ma’am) for United Press International, she resigned two years ago when the Moonies bought what remained of UPI.

But instead of retiring, she became a columnist for the Hearst News Service, where she gleefully reports that she gets hate e-mail from right-wingers. “I’m not really into technology, but I learned the delete key pretty fast.”

What bothers her most is the idea of our country staging a pre-emptive strike against Iraq. “That is not America!” she protests. “America has never done anything like that. That‘s antithetical to everything America stands for.”

She remembers the way she felt when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. She was a senior at Wayne State University then, itching to graduate, go off to Washington, and try to become a reporter. Women didn’t do that then.

Thomas did, and went on to smash through glass ceilings she wasn’t supposed to even scratch. She scored her share of scoops, wrote a best-selling memoir (Front Row at the White House) and forgot to retire.

Nobody, to my knowledge — not even her enemies — has suggested that at 82 she is losing it. The questions are as sharp and penetrating as ever; the writing, in my opinion, even more incisive. What critics do say is that her reporting is colored by a strong pro-Arab bias. Thomas doesn’t see it that way. “I am the daughter of Lebanese immigrants. But I am an American. I don’t like hyphenated Americans of any kind — our parents wanted us to become just plain Americans. I never learned Arabic, though I wish I had.”

What she does think is that the bulk of our government policy is strongly tilted in the other direction. “Bush meets with (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon all the time. He has never talked to (Palestinian leader Yassir) Arafat once.

Yes, she does feel sympathy for the Palestinian people. “What I would like to see is a little more balance in our reporting and in our policies,” she says.

She is proudly out of fashion in a number of ways. In an era when liberal has become a dirty word, Thomas is proud of it. “Am I a liberal? Absolutely! Am I supposed to be ashamed for caring about people, for caring what happens to our country? For caring whether the sick are taken care of? Why should I have to apologize for that?”

Almost alone among Washington columnists, she rightly worries more about losing civil liberties at home than about a third-rate dictator like Saddam. “I don’t believe we have to lose our traditional spirit of tolerance or undermine the primacy of our constitutional rights to win the war on terrorism,” she wrote in a recent column.

“In fact, if that happened, we would lose much more than we would gain.”

Possibly the best thing about today’s journalism is that Helen Thomas is still out there, writing a syndicated column our daily snoozepapers ought to run, every damned time. Incidentally, she says, “Whenever I am asked where my home is, I always say Detroit.” That should make all of us proud.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com

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