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After grilling Bush, Helen Thomas gets thousands of flowers

By Albert Eisele
March 31, 2006

The roses kept coming - and coming - and coming - to the Hearst Newspapers office in downtown Washington on Thursday, until they filled a large conference room to overflowing.

By the time the Federal Express delivery was complete, there were 108 dozen roses, nearly 1,300 in every color. They were the result of an e-mail campaign to show support for Hearst columnist Helen Thomas after she grilled President Bush about his Iraq policy at last week's White House news conference.

The campaign was the brainchild of Clarity Sanderson, a 31-year-old Democratic activist from Sandy, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City, who was motivated by the sharp exchange between Thomas and Bush, and by an op-ed article Thomas wrote about the exchange in the Salt Lake Tribune.

"Those two things set me off," Sanderson said in a telephone interview Friday.

Sanderson, a work-at-home web designer and mother of two who is co-chairwoman of the Utah Democratic Progressive Caucus, said she saw a note on the website democraticunderground.com suggesting that people e-mail Thomas to thank her for asking Bush "the questions all Americans want answered about Iraq."

"I thought, 'Let's take it a step farther," she said, and sent an e-mail asking people to donate to her Pay Pal account to send roses to Thomas.

That was last Friday. By Monday she'd received more than $2,200. She ordered the roses and 100 glass vases from an online floral service in San Francisco, Organic Bouquet, and they were delivered Thursday.

Thomas, the 85-year-old veteran White House journalist whose outspoken criticism of the Bush administration has drawn much hate mail from Bush supporters in recent years, said Friday that she was overwhelmed by the avalanche of roses.

"It sure beats the brickbats," she said, referring to hundreds of vitriolic e-mails she's received since last week's encounter with Bush. "Some of them attack you ad hominem and call you a traitor and ask if you've ever been to Iraq," she said. "I think it's the frustration of those who are angry with me and take it out in e-mail. I think there should be a logical debate, but maybe that's not possible during an ongoing war."

Thomas shared her roses with Hearst bureau chief Chuck Lewis and other colleagues and sent the bulk of them to wounded military personnel at Walter Reed Army Hospital.

Asked about Bush's response to her pointed question about his Iraq policy, she said, "He could not answer my question. He kept referring to Afghanistan. He never articulated the reasons we're in Iraq. I don't think there's any justification for an unprovoked war against somebody who did nothing against us."

Thomas had received hundreds of supportive e-mails by Friday afternoon, bearing such messages as, "O-M_G… I LOVE THAT LADY!" "We all owe her so much more than roses," "Her little finger has more class than George Bush does," and "Helen Thomas kick ass!"

Sanderson said she's never spoken with Thomas but received an e-mail from her via Hearst office manager Kristen Collie, who wrote that "Helen asked me to send you the following note:"

"Blessed are the peacemakers. The bounty of beautiful roses from such wonderful people has lifted my heart and will remain in my memory for the rest of my life. Thank you for caring that others may live."

Thomas, who is of Lebanese extraction, has never visited Iraq but she said, "I don't think I have to. I've been to the Middle East with many presidents. I think the whole situation is very sad, and they said it was going to be a cakewalk."

Thomas, who was inundated with hate mail last year when she was quoted in The Hill as saying she'd kill herself if Vice President Cheney ran for president in 2008, said she didn't talk to Cheney when they both attended the recent Gridiron Club dinner in Washington.

"I don't think he'll ever want to talk to me," she said.



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