(JTA) — The Society of Professional Journalists retired a lifetime achievement award named for Helen Thomas.
The SPJ board on Jan. 14 accepted the recommendation issued by its executive committee on Jan. 8, based on anti-Zionist remarks made by long-time journalist Thomas.
“While we support Helen Thomas’ right to speak her opinion, we condemn her statements in December as offensive and inappropriate,” the executive committee said at the time.
On Dec. 2, in a speech to an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Mich., Thomas, 90, said that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street “are owned by the Zionists.” The remarks raised fresh concerns about the sincerity of an apology for her remarks last summer to a video blogger that Jews “should get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany and the United States.
The award itself would be retired, SPJ officials said.
"The controversy surrounding this award has overshadowed the reason it exists," the Indianapolis-based national journalists’ group said in a statement. "To continue offering the award would reignite the controversy each year and take away from its purpose: honoring a lifetime of work in journalism. No individual worthy of such honor should have to face this controversy. No honoree should have to decide if the possible backlash is worth being recognized for his or her contribution to journalism."
The Society for Professional Journalists, established in 1909, granted Thomas its first lifetime achievement honor in 2000, and pledged to name subsequent awards for her. It has been awarded nine times since its debut. The award has no cash value.
Officials emphasized that Thomas’ 2000 award was not rescinded.
Thomas, born to Lebanese immigrants, for decades was the White House correspondent for the United Press International wire service. She subsequently was a columnist for Hearst Corp., but resigned that post after her comments last summer. She recently began writing a column for a free Virginia weekly newspaper, the Falls Church News-Press.
Wayne State University, Thomas’ alma mater, immediately withdrew its Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity in the Media Award, following her resignation.