View Full Version : Verbatim "Spin Is Not The Truth..."

11-05-2006, 11:50 PM
Verbatim 'Spin is not the truth...'



Helen Thomas was the United Press International White House bureau chief for 57 years. She has covered every presidential administration since John F. Kennedy, and she is now a syndicated columnist for Hearst News Service. Thomas, who spoke yesterday at the Arch Street Meeting House for the American Friends Service Committee, spoke to The Inquirer about the rigors of covering the White House, and the failures of journalists during the months before the war in Iraq.

Philadelphia Inquirer: Are successive White Houses getting better and better at making sure journalists learn as little as possible?

Helen Thomas: Oh, it's state of the art now. Each administration has learned more and more about how to spin events, especially in recent years. But spin is not the truth. Never the twain shall meet.

Inquirer: So is spin a kind of lie?

Thomas: Well, you never want to say people are lying. Spin isn't really a lie - it's their accent on the truth. All I can say is that we certainly were spun in the run-up to the war on Iraq.

Inquirer: How so?

Thomas: We just were. There were no weapons of mass destruction, no ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, no threat from a small Third World dictatorship against us, the world's only superpower. And yet, somehow, we were told all these things did exist, and we journalists bought it. We bought it hook, line and sinker, and so did Congress. For two years, [White House press secretaries] Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan said over and over, "9/11, Saddam Hussein, 9/11, Saddam Hussein." And we journalists really failed in our duty, even when it was crystal clear everyone had a reason for pushing the spin. Later, in his autobiography, Fleischer acknowledged that it was clear now that there were no WMD, but "You know what? We won the election." After [May 2003, when] Bush declared victory in Iraq, [former deputy prime minister of Iraq] Ahmad Chalabi gave an interview to a London reporter and said: "It's true there were no WMD, but we got the American troops to come to our country."

Inquirer: Why were journalists so credulous?

Thomas: Sept. 11, 2001, made everyone feel they shouldn't ask any challenging questions because that would be unpatriotic or un-American. That meant that a lot of good, necessary questions fell mute. At such a critical time, we journalists - along with Congress - were uncritical.

Inquirer: How can journalists ensure that this doesn't happen again?

Thomas: We're coming out of the coma now. Hurricane Katrina was what did it, I think. Katrina unleashed the reporters - especially on TV. They got to the scene, they saw the devastation, they saw the failures of government, and they realized they could show their emotions, they could question the government, they could get much more feisty. As for Iraq - we did let the country down. Too many people are dead.

Inquirer: Many people assume that journalists are liberals who are always working against a conservative establishment.

Thomas: I'm a liberal, I was born a liberal, and I will be a liberal till the day I die. That has nothing to do with whether or not this administration is telling the truth. Nor does it have anything to do with the way I presented my stories when I was a news reporter. When I was reporting news, as a person I never bowed out of the human race - I felt my feelings and had my opinions about things, just as anyone does - but it never got into my copy. I was never accused of slanting my copy. Now that I'm a columnist, well, I go for broke. But there's a difference between straight reporting and opinion writing. When I was a reporter, I wrote a straight story. You park your views in a blind trust and tell the straightest story you can. In fact, you tell the dullest story possible, because you don't want one word, one verb or noun, to stray into it to let your feelings show. I think the American people really do get a straight shot on the front pages of the newspapers of this country.

Inquirer: American voters have been slow to use their votes to express dissatisfaction with the Iraq war. Has that slowness surprised you?

Thomas: No. We don't have that many elections. This is one time the voters can express themselves, not so much on the candidates but on the foreign policy of this country and the credibility of this president, even though neither he nor Cheney is on the ballot.

Inquirer: When's the next White House news conference?

Thomas: [Laughs.] Oh, we don't know. They give you only very short notice. They don't want the experts and the ones with the sharp questions to show up. Short notice only, so we never know for sure.