Journalism

Honoring Helen Thomas, the First Lady of American Journalism

by Dawn Farmer

“Be fair, be decent… be honest, tell the truth, be educated, seek a better life and help mankind.” – Helen Thomas, on the values imparted by her parents.

This extraordinary woman has dedicated her life to seeking the truth for the benefit of all humanity. Often described as the First Lady of American journalism, Ms. Thomas has practiced her profession for sixty-seven years. She has been a pioneer – the first woman appointed Chief White House Correspondent for United Press International (UPI) and the only female print journalist to accompany President Nixon to China on his historic trip in 1972. Ms. Thomas was also the first female officer of the National Press Club, first female member (later president) of the White House Correspondents Association, and the first female member of the Gridiron Club. After 57 years with UPI, she resigned to join the Hearst Newspapers as a columnist writing on national affairs and the White House.

The senior member of the White House Press Corps, Ms. Thomas has known and questioned every president since Kennedy in 1961 and written four books about her tenure. She holds the distinction of having the only chair in the White House press room labeled not with the name of her employer, but with her own name.

Helen Thomas’ amazing career has not been without controversy. She is known for direct and pointed questions. After a lifetime censoring her own opinions, she gave an off-the-record comment to the Daily Breeze in Torrance, California, calling George W. Bush the “worst President in American history.” When then-White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer confirmed she had said it, she lost her prestigious front-row position in the press briefing room and was moved to the back row. Ms. Thomas’ ostracism came at a very crucial moment in 2003 as President Bush gave a press conference in which he told the reporters that America was on the verge of war. Ms. Thomas recalls that no reporters within view of the President asked him why, and the President did not call on her from the back of the room.

Ms. Thomas wrote a polite note to President Bush apologizing for calling him the worst President. He graciously replied, then called on her at the next press conference. True to her profession, she took the opening and asked him then, “Why did we go to war?” After that, she said, she was put in the deep freeze.

Ms. Thomas has also spoken candidly about what she sees as the degradation of the White House press itself. A famous incident came in April 2008 when the White House finally acknowledged the US had tortured suspected terrorists. When not one reporter questioned why President Bush had earlier denied using torture, Ms. Thomas asked her fellow reporters, “Where is everybody?”

She received 50 bouquets of flowers and cards from her colleagues saying, in effect: we’re here, we’re here.

“Look, you said this yesterday, and you’re saying this now,” expressed an exasperated Ms. Thomas. “How can you approach the American people with this? We’re supposed to be an informed people. We can handle the truth.”

Ms. Thomas has also been quoted as saying the only truism in life is change. She feels sure the press will wake up, come out of their coma and, when she retires, take up the work she has started.

Helen Thomas you deserve the spot atop our masthead because you have lived your convictions. Your words and questions bear witness to the power of truth. You have always asked why. We salute you, Helen Thomas.

Hear Helen Thomas in her own words

15 replies »

  1. Helen is how our media used to be..She took her job to protect american citizens to heart and she does..This is one fine spunky lady..This is how a ethical reporter works,wish we had more like her.

  2. ‘She received 50 bouquets of flowers and cards from her colleagues saying, in effect: we’re here, we’re here.’ – Uh, yeah, no you wern’t. Helen was there, the rest of you are nothings.

  3. One must remember that Helen is a wee bit biased, sometimes substituting editorial for reporting. While y”all might like her, there is a whole other side that disagrees.

    Jeff

  4. Jeff – Indeed all stories have two sides – but we have had a press corps in the White House that for too long has not asked the questions that draw out both sides. If having to start a war in Iraq was necessary than all sides should have been aired, not hidden under the cover of being feared “unpatriotic.”

    There is plenty of space for the question “Why” no matter where your particular viewpoint originates.

  5. I thank God for Helen Thomas, for being one of the very few in our modern day media, who dares to ask the “hard” questions to those in “authority.” Americans want truths, not half-truths nor “political spin.” Ms. Thomas cuts right through the b-lls**t and gets right to the core of issues. Long may the “Queen of Investigative Journalism” reign.

  6. Dawn,

    I think the press corps has asked both sides since LBJ was president and we were embroiled in Viet Nam. The press corps gave Reagan fits. However, Helen tends to lecture the president(if he’s a Republican….she gave Clinton a pass), and that’s not part of the job description of White House press reporter. That’s my problem, not the fact that she asks tough questions.

    Jeff

  7. Jeff . clinton a pass. baloney..When she asks the tough questions, she is doing her job but listen to the conservative whine if she does..For 8 long years our media were steno people, they didnt do investive reporting they did what bush administration said . This lady doesnt as she is a real reporter. Bush would not have been albe to get away with all these falsehoods if our reporters had done their jobs..We would not have been in this mess if they had done their jobs.

  8. I think Jeff has a good point (to a point). She does lecture before she asks her question which is so annoying. In no way did she give Clinton a pass (nor did the press) but I will concede she did not lecture him. Let’s also remember, she has nothing to lose. She is not concerned about advancement or her career. Not defending the inadequate press, just making a point that has not been raised in the article. Even the article said she kept her opinions to herself for her UPI career.

    Dawn, yes, every issue has at least 2 sides but that does not automatically make both opinions valid.

  9. I understand her importance in American journalism history, especially with regards to woman in that field. However I have to agree with Jeff on the point where she lectures. Not that many journalists in the press corp deliver hard nosed questions (for the fear of losing access), but she does have a history of softball questions with Presidents that she likes.

  10. It is a waste of time to try to sugar coat this Jew-hater thing….she shamed our entire nation when she said at OUR White House while it was hosting the Jewish Heritage event words regarding our friend, Israel, that are hateful and so “un-journalistic.” Oh, that’s righjt…she works for the first newspaper to go to “yellow” journalism in our country…Hearst Publishing….does Hearst Publishing and the US President agree with helen thomas’ opinions? Come on guys from barack down to your editor…do you agree with her words….yes or no?

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