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January 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

A former president of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) has denounced the recent decision by the group’s national board to shelve the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award because of Thomas’s controversial remarks about Israel. In a guest commentary appearing in today’s (Tuesday) Denver Post, Christine Tatum, who served as SPJ’s national president from 2006 to 2007 and is a former reporter for the Post and the Chicago Tribune, called the SPJ’s decision “shameful” and took issue with the group’s assertion that it was not a free speech issue but that it merely wanted to end the attacks on the society and its members. “In other words,” wrote Tatum, “let’s get back to defending free speech — just not Helen’s.” As for the Society’s argument that it would not be fair to an honoree to “have to decide if the possible backlash is worth being recognized” with the Helen Thomas award, Tatum wrote: “If that kind of pressure is too much for a lifetime achievement award winner in journalism to bear, SPJ should seriously question why it’s awarding that person in the first place.” And if the honoree should decide to reject the award as a matter of principle, that person “would merely be exercising the free speech SPJ says it reveres. So what?” Tatum concluded, “No one has to endorse [Thomas’s] opinions, which … will never outweigh her devotion to duty, erase her lifetime of professional achievement or replace her legacy.” The current leadership of the SPJ has not yet responded to Tatum’s comments.