Helen Thomas may be writing again – she’s resumed her column for the Falls Church News-Press – but that doesn’t mean the Society of Professional Journalists are keen on having her name associated with their honorees after her much-discussed comments regarding Jewish people.
Late last week, the SPJ quietly announced that it would “retire” its Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award, effectively doing away with a lifetime achievement award altogether. Not that the organization is against free speech of anything, it’s just, uh. Complicated:
A prominent objection to taking any action was that of Helen Thomas’ free speech rights. SPJ staunchly believes Helen Thomas and all people in the United States have a right to free speech. The Society defends that fundamental legal right as a core organizational mission, even when the speech is unpopular, vile or considered offensive.
However, the controversy surrounding this award has overshadowed the reason it exists. To continue offering the award would reignite the controversy each year and take away from its purpose: honoring a lifetime of work in journalism. No individual worthy of such honor should have to face this controversy. No honoree should have to decide if the possible backlash is worth being recognized for his or her contribution to journalism.
The award was created in 2000, with Thomas herself as its first recipient. Previously, Wayne State University decided to suspend its Helen Thomas Diversity Award in the wake of her comments.
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