Helen Thomas Rides Again; She Wants to Know, WHY Terrorism?

by James M. Wall

The scene is from  John Ford’s 1962 film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The time: the early American West,

The editor of the Shinbow Star follows Senator Ransom Stoddard (played by Jimmy Stewart), and his wife Hallie (Vera Miles), into the backroom where Tom Doniphon’s (John Wayne) body  lies in a wooden casket.

Ransome, Hallie and two old friends from the early days, sit quietly by the casket. The editor, Maxwell Scott (Carleton Young)  walks into the room.

Scott: I don’t wish to intrude, but a United States Senator is news. I’m the editor of a newspaper with a state wide circulation. I’ve got a responsibility to know why you came all the way down here to bury a man. And, you can’t just say his name was Tom Doniphon and leave it at that.

Who was Tom Doniphon?

Stoddard responds:

He was a friend, Mr. Scott. And we’d like to be left alone.

Scott:  I’m sorry, Senator, that’s not enough. I have a right to have the story.

This past week, Helen Thomas, the veteran White House reporter, confronted two White House officials in the same persistent manner as her fictional counterpart, Maxwell Scott.

Thomas has been confronting official Washington since the days of John F. Kennedy.

Her most recent White House press encounter was captured on You Tube. The conference was held to allow the media to question two officials sent by President Barack Obama to explain how two men, one on an airplane, the other in a remote CIA site in Afghanistan, infiltrated America’s defensive shield.

Everyone in that White House press room knew the basic facts of WHAT had happened in the sky over Detroit and at the CIA site. Helen Thomas was alone in demanding to know the WHY of what happened.

On his blog, Glenn Greenwald described Thomas vs. Brennan:

At a White House press conference yesterday [January 8] with [Homeland Security director] Janet Napolitano and [Deputy National Security Council advisor] John Brennan, Helen Thomas shows — yet again — that she’s one of the very few White House reporters willing to deviate from approved orthodoxy scripts. She asks the prohibited question about the motives of Terrorists, and keeps asking as she receives complete non-responses, until they all just decide to ignore her.

Brennan’s answer — they do this because they are Evil and murderous — is on the same condescending cartoon level as the “They-Hate-us-For-Our-Freedom” tripe we endured for the last eight years. . . . That Al Qaeda is evil and murderous and perverts Islam, is a judgment about what they do, not an answer as to what motivates them.

Note carefully, Greenwald links Brennan’s non-answer to the “condescending cartoon level” of the Bush White House, “They-Hate-us-For-Our-Freedom” tripe of the past eight years.

Greenwald is dead on accurate with his depiction that Brennan sounds like the Second Coming of the Bush White House.

Greenwald knows what constitutes tripe. And he wants the American public to face up to the harsh reality that the Obama White House, on this issue, is just more of the same. He is calling on us to break from the past and recognize the role motive plays in attacks on Americans.

The evidence of what motivates Terrorism when directed at the U.S. is so overwhelming and undeniable that it takes an extreme propagandist to pretend it doesn’t exist.  What is Brennan so afraid of?

It is true that religious fanaticism is a part of their collective motivation, but why can’t he just say what’s so obviously true: “they claim that the U.S. is interfering in, occupying and bringing violence to their part of the world, they cite things like civilian deaths and our support for Israel and Guantanamo and torture, and claim that their terrorism is in retaliation”?

Indeed, Brennan’s boss, the President, has often claimed that things like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib help Al Qaeda recruitment (and it seems clear it was part of Abdulmutallab’s hatred for the U.S.), so clearly U.S. actions are part of the motivation.  Yet Brennan is afraid to acknowledge that not just past actions, but current ones, fuel the desire to target the U.S. for attacks.

Why does Helen Thomas stand virtually alone in the Washington media in confronting the “taboo” that keeps American in the media orthodoxy lockbox? Her persistent question, WHY, goes unanswered.

The “taboo” question is not one this White House wants to address. In a posting he wrote the day before the White House briefing, Greenwald addresses the “taboo” question:

If it is taboo to discuss how America’s actions in the Middle East cause Terrorism — and it generally is — that taboo is far stronger still when it comes to specifically discussing how our blind, endless enabling of Israeli actions fuels Terrorism directed at the U.S.

An article in yesterday’s New York Timesexamined the life of Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, the Jordanian who blew himself up, along with 7 CIA agents, in Afghanistan this week. Why would Balawi — a highly educated doctor, who was specifically recruited by Jordanian intelligence officials to infiltrate Al Qaeda on behalf of Western governments — want to blow himself up and murder as many American intelligence agents as possible? The article provides this possible answer [from Balawi’s brother]:

“He described Mr. Balawi as a “very good brother” and a “brilliant doctor,” saying that the family knew nothing of Mr. Balawi’s writings under a pseudonym on jihadi Web sites. He said, however, that his brother had been “changed” by last year’s three-week-long Israeli offensive in Gaza, which killed about 1,300 Palestinians.”

An Associated Press discussion of the possible motives of accused Christmas Day airline attacker Umar Faruk Abdulmutallab contained this quite similar passage:

“Students and administrators at the institute said Abdulmutallab was gregarious, had many Yemeni friends and was not overtly extremist. They noted, however, he was open about his sympathies toward the Palestinians and his anger over Israel’s actions in Gaza.” (emphasis added).

Two suicide bombers, one  that succeeded, and one that failed, led to the questions from Helen Thomas at that White House press conference.

It was not a difficult question, but John Brennan refused to give her a straight answer, other than to repeat the Bushian mantra,”they” are murderous. That is not enough, Mr. Brennan; that is not enough, President Obama.

What were the motives of these two bombers?  Their families and friends point to their anger over Israel’s treatment of Gazan civilians. Is it the official policy of the American government to ignore this possible motive?

Is our loyalty to the policies of Israel more important to our government than defending our own people?

The picture above, from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, shows Senator Ransom Stoddard talking with a young reporter from the Shinbone Star.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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12 Responses to Helen Thomas Rides Again; She Wants to Know, WHY Terrorism?

  1. Larry George says:

    Jim, you are so on target. Of course this administration can’t acknowledge the WHY publicly without wholesale withdrawal of support from most members of both parties in Congress, all under AIPAC’s thumb. Yet, we can only hope that your final question haunts Obama, and the few enlightened advisors that may still exist, for it may be the most important question facing our nation today.

  2. Sam Jones says:

    Jim, count yourself in good company with Thomas, Greenwald, and a few other “voices in the wilderness.” Perhaps, and tragically, the reason that the press does not ask “why?” is that their respective media organizations are dominated by pundits instead of newsmen and women. Therefore, they have an ample number of talking heads who will tell their audiences why, unencumbered by research or critical analysis.

  3. At a White House Press Conference on February 9, 2009 Helen Thomas, asked President Obama if he knew of any Middle Eastern state with WMD.

    She was ignored then too, although the State Department has published reams of material about President Kennedy’s concern about the Israeli bomb.

    A few days after 9/11, President Bush went on TV and us if we wanted to help we should “GO SHOP!” And that “They hated us because we were free!”

    I did NOT react with FEAR; but curiosity and I did NOT want to shop. I wondered if ‘They’ hated us so much that they would target and murder innocent people had something to do with Americans mindless over consumption of the world’s resources and apathy towards the poor and oppressed.

    Until 9/11, I was your typical self-satisfied, self-centered, uninformed, misinformed comfortable American. THAT DAY changed everything and inspired me to research and travel 7 times to occupied Palestine. I learned many reasons WHY some people hate US so much that they desire to target and murder innocent ones.

  4. noushin says:

    Exactly right! forget inside the beltway; why won’t average Americans ask “Why?” To this day, this question is still missing in the greatest crime against America: 9/11. The first question at a crime scene is always to ask “why.” We are yet to ask this question about a tragedy that killed almost 3000 people. Does motive not matter in these attacks? Until we ask the question, there can be no answer. If there is no answer, the horror repeats itself.

  5. Bill Gepford says:

    For the past 56 years I have been confronting members of Congress and other national leaders to answer the question. Some (from many cultural, religious and political backgrounds) will privately confess to me that the reason is quite clear: our unswerving support, financial, religious and political of Israel. But they never, never dare say this publicly. Those who have taken the moral stand to say so publicly have been ridiculed, blackmailed, debunked or at the worst, forced out of their jobs by AIPAC or its lackeys. It can all be read in the history books.

    At our highest level of government, we are still victims of a culture that refuses to answer the question, Why. Until some one (or a number of some ones) in the White House or Congress is honest enough to stand up to the plate, the killing, humiliation, blackmailing, lying, and terrible tragedies like what recently happened in Gaza, 9/11, Lebanon in 1982, the recent killing of the CIA agents, and the breaking of security like Mutallab, and the USS Liberty fiasco, to mention only a few, will continue, and many families will continue counting the innocent, honest and loyal victims who will lose their lives to this kind of obfuscation.

    This is the kind of real change that we need. I have yet to see the promised change that we heard so much about during the last political campaign.

    May God have mercy upon us!

  6. Lorrie Hall says:

    Americans are, indeed, unable to understand or find out the “why.” Even though it is in our newspapers (in small print way down in the article). In the Boston Globe, “Abdulmatallab…expressed anger over Israel’s actions against Palestinians…”. (12/30/09), and previously in an article on Somalia on November 30, 2009, “The message is simple, Dahir, 18, said three months after finishing his training…”We are taught how … the US government does nothing as Israel harasses our Muslim Palestinians.”

    And, of course, the same finding as one reason for 9/11, hushed up in the Commission’s 9/11 Report.

    It goes without saying that supporting Israel without conditions with $8 million a day affects our security. It’s not only sad that Americans don’t realize it, it may prove downright disastrous.

  7. Gay Harter says:

    Finally, a few people who put 2 and 2 together and say they equal 4. When will the American people wake up to the fact that our support for the murderous ethnic-cleansing policies of the Israeli government is endangering our own security as well as that of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians? I too have seen the conditions on the ground in the Occupied Territories, and they infuriate me. We all need to speak up over and over again and join organizations that speak truth to power, like Jewish Voice for Peace.

  8. Robert Hannum says:

    Some of us were told on Saturday that, while Aipac has a $60 million per year budget, much of which goes to our beloved Congrespersons, the new kid on the block, J-Street has 4 million. Not much, but getting better. Until members of Congress begin to hear the other side (Until now they have only received the AIPAC message), they will continue to vote mindlessly to support the policies of the State of Israel without much thought. There is a new narrative – pro Israel and pro peace – that is making its way up on Capitol Hill. And, we can all continue to push the question, “Why?”

  9. Harris Fawell says:

    Jim: An excellent question is -are our loyalties to the policies of Isreal more important than being fair to our own people? The answer, affter all these years, apparently is yes. I can’t think of any other credible answer. I am dissapointed with Obama. Harris

  10. Fantastic post. Thank you.

    It is absurd, the way US officials simply refuse to consider the question of why these people hate their country, and it reflects a deep-seated prejudice towards Arab and/or Muslim people that is so common that it goes unnoticed!

    Such infantile posturing can only be maintained so long as the general populace is convinced that their ‘opponents’ are less than human – motivated by crazy religious ideas or an insane jealousy that the average American just can’t be expected to understand!

  11. Bonnie Jones Shinneman says:

    Jim — Thank you, thank you for sending out the piece about Helen Thomas. I love her — and so thankful she had the courage to ask that very, very important question.

    I sent out your “Walwritings” to my list long with my own commentary of experience which follows:

    On 9.11 when I saw the planes crash into the towers I said to myself, “I am not surprised. You cannot treat people — the Palestinians and Arabs — the way we have and not expect some retribution.”

    If you have visited refugee camps in Palestine and Israel (there are still 49+ Palestinian refugee camps in Israel) and talk with people who have been forced to live there for 50 years — you can expect retribution. Let’s ask “Why?” like Helen Thomas who is Lebanese. Perhaps it is our foreign policy which is very much at fault.

    (I visited with an older woman (the mother of a doctor) in Shofat Refugee Camp in Jerusalem. She and her family had owned the land which now is the Israeli airport in Tel Aviv. She has no windows in her room in the refugee camp whereas she had a beautiful home before. They were forced off their land and moved by the Israeli army three times, finally into Shofat Refugee Camp.
    Also, one of our work teams met a man who had has lived in the Deheisha refugee camp for 50 years. He said, “I would rather have a jihad than to have to continue to live in this hell for the future–for the rest of my life.”
    I would love for our government to answer the WHY the “terrorists” are coming after us.
    But they don’t dare because of AIPAC. Our government cannot tell the truth because of AIPAC and our Congress which, as stated by Israeli Prime Minister, “We own the American Congress.” We as a nation are paying a high price (both literally and figuratively) for our unquestioned support of Israel. Perhaps 33 billion dollars to be given to Israel this year would do better paying medical bills, schooling and jobs here at home!

  12. athar murtuza says:

    Thanks for highlighting a very basic truth: a major power which acts like a lapdog of AIPAC and Likud, is going to turn into a North American variation of Liberia in a matter of few decades!

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