WASHINGTON - Helen Thomas, the opinionated White House correspondent who over the years used her seat in the front row to history to exasperate 10 presidents, lost that perch Monday in a flap over her calling on Israelis to get "out of Palestine."
Thomas, 89, who made her name as a bulldog for United Press International and was a pioneer for women in journalism, retired as a columnist for Hearst News Service.
The terse announcement by Hearst came after videotaped remarks she made during a chance encounter with an independent filmmaker spread virally through the Internet.
She apologized, but White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called her comments "offensive and reprehensible" and her colleagues with the White House Correspondents Association issued a rare admonishment, calling her remarks "indefensible."
Thomas began covering the White House for UPI in 1960. Fiercely competitive, she became the first female White House bureau chief for a wire service when UPI named her to the position in 1974.
She retained her place on the front row of the White House briefing room after joining Hearst in 2000 and remained persistent to the point of badgering.
A daughter of Lebanese immigrants, she did little to hide her pro-Arab views. During George W. Bush's presidency, her questions to both the president and his press secretaries were almost exclusively about the war in Iraq.
Her retirement was set in motion by a website, rabbilive.com, that relaunched only last week.
Rabbi David Nesenoff, an independent filmmaker from Long Island who runs the site, said he approached Thomas outside the White House after being there for Jewish Heritage Day on May 27. He said he was there with his teenage son and a friend, who were both wearing yarmulkes.
He asked whether she had any comments on Israel.
"Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine," she replied, chuckling as she said that.
"Remember, these people are occupied and it's their land. It's not Germany, it's not Poland," she continued. Asked where they should go, she answered, "They should go home."
"Where's home?" Nesenoff asked.
"Poland, Germany, and America, and everywhere else," Thomas replied.
Thomas was scheduled to speak at the graduation Monday of Walt Whitman High School in the Washington suburb of Bethesda, Md., but principal Alan Goodwin wrote in a Sunday e-mail to students and parents that she was being replaced.
Writing on her website Monday, Thomas said, "I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians."
Nesenoff said Thomas' response wasn't "angrily said. It was just said. It was insulting and hurtful."