Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The following is a letter I have sent to the president of the Society of Professional Journalists regarding the "retirement" of the organization's Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award.

I have just learned, with dismay, of the SPJ Board’s decision to “retire” the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award. No matter how much this baby was split, the decision is, nevertheless, a repudiation of the person for whom it is named and whose lifetime achievement is considerably greater than the sum of that attained by the entire board.

It was said the “controversy” over the award would diminish the honor for any future recipient. While Ms. Thomas’ recently expressed views that are controversial and repugnant to many, including myself, it is her journalism that was being honored, and there is no hint of anything but excellence, professionalism and courage in her 57 years with United Press International, where I was privileged to work alongside her.

Until I heard of this “controversy,” I was not aware there was any actual controversy, other than that raised by certain board members themselves in response to outside pressure.

I hope the irony is not lost that a majority of the board, as listed on the SPJ Web site, is composed of women, each and every one of whom owes a portion of her success to pioneers like Helen Thomas. I hope they went back and looked at some of the publicly expressed views of SPJ icons Eugene Pulliam and James J. Kilpatrick before making their decision.

I was honored to have been “tapped” for SPJ’s predecessor, Sigma Delta Chi, as a college student in 1967, back when it was truly an honorary organization. When my renewal notice arrives in the mail, I will have to reconsider the definition of honor.

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