The Executive Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists voted Saturday to recommend that the organization retire the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement. The recommendation, which will be sent to the full board of directors within the next 10 days for a vote, states that the award will be retired with Thomas’ name attached.They published this absurd argument against rescinding the award from a self-proclaimed Jew and Zionist, Lloyd Weston, condemning Wayne State University from pulling their Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award:
The recommendation by the executive committee is to retire the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement, meaning no lifetime achievement award will be given. The recommendation is not to rename it or to remove Thomas’ name.
The retirement will not take effect unless the board votes to accept the recommendation.
“This is a complex issue, and the executive committee considered comments and letters from both sides. Because of the importance of this decision, it is appropriate to put this before the full board,” SPJ President Hagit Limor said.
The executive committee said the following in making its recommendation: “While we support Helen Thomas’ right to speak her opinion, we condemn her statements in December as offensive and inappropriate.”
The reasoning behind WSU’s decision to no longer offer the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity in the Media award sends a mixed message to its students – especially journalism students – that the values instilled in them over four years of education are both flexible and expendable; that freedom of speech and of the press is not a foundation, set in stone, upon which life in America is based, but rather merely a suggestion to be taken if it suits you, or left behind when it becomes inconvenient or embarrassing.Weston of course does not explain how getting rid of an award whose very name has turned into an embarrassment is a threat to freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is important, but it does not run roughshod over other freedoms - such as the freedom of Wayne State University and the SPJ from not wanting their names associated with a bigot.
I have urged officials of WSU 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.