Veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas died today of a long illness at the age of 92. Thomas had a long, illustrious, outspoken career.
Dubbed the "dean of the White House press corps" because she was the longest serving White House journalist, Thomas worked as a waitress before she was hired by the Washington Daily News in the 1940s. She started covering the White House during John F. Kennedy's presidency in 1961 and remained until she retired in 2010 when Barack Obama was in office. (Her career ended under a cloud of controversy when she spoke out about Israel and Palestine.)
Thomas served as a mentor to many young female journalists until she was well into her 80s. She broke barriers in the male-dominated press corps, and was the first female president of both the White House Correspondents' Association and the Gridiron Club. She was the only female print journalist to accompany President Richard Nixon on his trip to China in 1972.
Thomas' favorite president was John F. Kennedy; her least favorite, George W. Bush, whom she called "the worst president ever." Former President Bill Clinton gave Thomas a cake for her 77 birthday on August 4, 1997 and President Obama gave her cupcakes when she turned 89. Getting peppered with questions by Thomas was such a rite of passage for a President that at his very first news conference as President, Obama called on her and said, "Helen, I’m excited. This is my inaugural moment.”
No matter how much she liked a president, however, Thomas was tough on them. She was uncompromising, unapologetic, and relentless. She believed in freedom of the press and the public's right to know and she worked hard to get answers. She made presidents and their press people squirm.
Thomas was famous for the signature line she uttered at the end of every White House news conference, “Thank you, Mr. President.”
For her commitment to ethical journalism and for breaking down barriers for all the female reporters that followed her, we'd like to say, “Thank you, Helen Thomas.”
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