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SPJ executive committee refers Helen Thomas Award decision to full board of directors


For Immediate Release:

Hagit Limor, SPJ President, 513-852-4012,
Andrew Scott, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-927-8000 ext. 215,

NASHVILLE, TENN. – 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.

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.”

During robust debate on Saturday, the committee considered positions from those supporting Thomas’ right to free speech and those who considered her remarks unbecoming of an honor given by SPJ. The committee decided that while both positions have merit, the best way to return the focus to SPJ’s important work would be to distance itself from the controversy now overshadowing this award.

“Let’s work on what unites us rather than what divides us,” Limor said.

The executive committee meeting, held in Nashville, Tenn., marked the second time in nearly six months the committee has considered removing Thomas’ name, stemming from an incident earlier in 2010 when the longtime White House reporter and columnist commented to a rabbi on video that Jews in Palestine should “go home.” Thomas drew widespread criticism after the video was posted online, and she later resigned her job as a Hearst Newspapers columnist. The executive committee considered removing Thomas’ name during a July executive committee meeting but did not, noting it was a one-time, spontaneous remark for which she apologized.

In December, Thomas reiterated her previous comments before a speech in Dearborn, Mich., the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News reported. The News quoted her at the time as saying, “Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street are owned by the Zionists. No question.”

After the speech and follow-up news reports, calls again came for SPJ to remove Thomas’ name from the award. The executive committee placed the item on the agenda for the already scheduled Jan. 8, 2011, meeting and collected a wide range of letters and e-mails both supporting and opposing removing Thomas’ name from the award.

SPJ initiated the award in 2000. Helen Thomas was the original recipient, and any decision made by the board will not impact that honor or subsequent honorees.

Under SPJ’s bylaws, the executive committee consists of the president, president-elect, secretary-treasurer, vice president for campus chapter affairs, immediate-past president, and two additional directors chosen annually by the full board of directors.

Update [1/10/10]: This news release was updated to clarify that the recommendation of the SPJ executive committee is to retire the award, not to rename it or remove Thomas’ name. The second paragraph reflects this information.

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