Legacies don’t stand a chance in a judgmental and unforgiving society

President Obama gave Helen Thomas cupcakes for her 89th birthday in 2009. Earlier this month, he called her comments on Israel and Palestine "offensive" and "out of line."

It used to be that a person’s legacy stood for something. But in today’s era of instant communication, instant sharing and instant judging, the power of a solid reputation or a history of greatness means very little.

Take Helen Thomas for example. A veritable institution in political news coverage, Thomas began her rise to White House fame by covering President-Elect John F. Kennedy in 1960.

According to Wikipedia:

Thomas has received numerous awards throughout her career and more than 30 honorary degrees. In 1976, Thomas was named one of the World Almanac’s 25 Most Influential Women in America. Thomas received an Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media from the Freedom Forum in 1991. The White House Correspondent’s Association honored her in 1998 by establishing the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2000, her alma mater, Wayne State University, established an award for journalists in her honor, the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity award. In 2007, Thomas received a Foremother Award from the National Research Center for Women & Families.

There are few who would argue against the concept that Helen Thomas paved the way for women to be respected as professional journalists. She is an institution among all journalists, male and female, when you consider something else Wikipedia points out: “Thomas was the only member of the White House Press Corps to have her own seat in the White House Briefing Room. All other seats are assigned to media outlets.”

I had a brief discussion on a colleague’s Facebook page about Thomas the other day, which you can see here:

It is interesting that a bastion of old-school journalism has been taken down by modern online “reporting” of a citizen with a Flip-style video. More important than how it happened, however, is why it happened. Again, without debating the merits of what Thomas said about Israel and Palestine, did the fact that she shared a fiery opinion negate everything she has done for journalism and women for more than half a century?

Have we become that judgmental and unforgiving? I’d like to hear your thoughts and all opinions are welcome here. I may not agree with your comment, but I promise not to judge you for it!

(Thomas/Obama photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

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3 comments on “Legacies don’t stand a chance in a judgmental and unforgiving society

  1. One could simply chalk this up to the adage “It takes a lifetime to build a reputation, and a moment to destroy it.”

    One could also say that Thomas was so far removed from the more prominent role she played, that many younger people just had no idea who she was or the significance of her seriously-impressive resume.

    One could also say that we’ve *always* been a very unforgiving culture when it comes to the expression of racial and ethic opinions. Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder was at the top of his game when he made his statements about the breeding of black slaves. He was gone in an instant.

    I don’t think this is anything new, really.

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    • Perhaps, Ike, we have always been unforgiving as a society and your reputation is only as good as the very last thing you do. But with this new age of every second of your day possibly being broadcast to the world at a moment’s notice, are we even more likely to be vilified for random statements? I guess I am fearful of the chilling effect this could have on people being willing to share their opinions. A society unwilling to say what they think is a society destined to be told what they think. That scares the hell out of me.

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