Robert Gibbs Calls Helen Thomas' Remarks 'Offensive And Reprehensible'

The Obama administration, somewhat shockingly, weighed in on the controversy surrounding longtime White House scribe Helen Thomas, calling her remarks about the need for Jews to "get the hell out of Palestine" "offensive and reprehensible."

"I have not spoken with [the president] directly on that," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said on Monday. "I think those remarks were offensive and reprehensible. She should and has apologized because obviously those remarks do not reflect certainly the opinion of most of the people in here and certainly of the administration."

Thomas, who did not show up for Monday's briefing on the Gulf oil spill with Admiral Thad Allen, has come under heavy criticism in recent days for saying the Jewish people of Israel should go "back" to Poland and Germany.

She has since apologized. But calls for some sort of penalty or rebuke have grown louder. Former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer called for Thomas' firing from Hearst news service where she serves as a columnist. Thomas' speaking agency has dropped her as a client. And a host of other media figures have suggested that she lose her front-row seat at the briefings.

And yet, for all the chatter surrounding her comments, it was surprising to see the White House engage on the issue. (Gibbs, it appeared, seemed very much prepared for the question). The administration has editorialized about those who cover it before -- notably with its campaign against Fox News. But there are certain sensitivities that involve any discussion of Thomas, who, despite the serious outcry over her remarks, remains an institutional figure among the White House press corps.