To the Editor:
I read in the papers that my beloved alma mater, Wayne State University, has “retired” the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity in the Media Award because of controversial remarks made by the award’s namesake. In reading some of these remarks — at the time they were made, and again today — I find that in every case, she has done no more than express her opinion, in fact, regularly using phrases like “in my opinion” and “I think that …“
With all due respect to Helen Thomas’ last professional job as an “opinion columnist” for Hearst Newspapers, I fail to see the controversy.
Frankly, even considering all the common infirmities affecting her in her 91st year, I find many of her recent remarks about Israel and the Middle East to be deplorable and without basis in fact. However, the same First Amendment that protects my right to be a Jew and a Zionist in America protects Helen Thomas’ right to express her opinion of Jews and Zionists, no matter what that opinion may be. And while I vehemently disagree with the opinions she has expressed about Jews and Zionists, I will defend, as long as I live, her right to express them.
That’s what they were teaching at Wayne State University’s School of Journalism when I was a student there … when Helen Thomas was a student there. I fear today that my professors and hers are turning in their graves.
I cannot imagine any American journalist — let alone fellow alumni of Helen Thomas — being anything but humbled, honored and proud to receive an award named for her and commemorating her long, distinguished career and many achievements as a woman, a correspondent and an author.
I take issue with officials at Wayne State who apparently believe that by canceling the Helen Thomas award, they are “saving face” and perhaps enhancing the reputation of the university. I suggest rather that they have irreparably diminished the value of a degree in journalism from that fine institution by their failure to uphold freedom of speech — the very foundation of any journalism curriculum.
I have urged WSU officials to reconsider what they have done and to apologize — to Helen Thomas, of course, but more importantly, to the Wayne State University students and alumni who expected better of them.
Lloyd H. Weston