She was a fixture. She sat in the center seat of the front row. She usually asked the first question and then closed the press conference with the simple phrase, “Thank you, Mr. President.”
Indeed, presidents showed Helen Thomas, who died yesterday at age 92, deference. Deference for the longevity of her reporting and for her sharp questions that could puncture a carefully crafted facade and go to the heart of an issue.
Helen covered 10 presidents, starting in 1960 and through the early years of the Obama administration. In later years, Helen said her favorite was Kennedy because of his big ideas and dreams which have stood the test of time. She also thought Clinton was brilliant and could lead a really good press conference, but she barely contained her disdain his predecessor George W. Bush.
Helen would probably be considered old school amongst today’s journalists. However, for decades she was known worldwide as the “Dean of the White House Press Corps.”
Her reign at United Press International lasted 39 years. Helen then reported for other news services and later became an opinion columnist. In 2010, she hastily retired after making some inflammatory and disturbing comments about Israel.
In those filmed comments that ended up on You Tube, Helen, of Lebanese descent, revealed a deep bias. She was 89 years old and it was a sad ending to a long, illustrious career.
Even so, I chose to remember Helen Thomas’ career in its totality. She left a legacy that cannot be denied. Helen blazed a trail for female journalists by pushing herself into the male-dominated and highly competitive world of presidential news coverage.
It couldn’t have been easy. Changing convention never is.
I grew up watching Helen Thomas at televised press conferences and reading her byline in newspapers. She was an institution for so many decades.
Even though her career closed on a sour note, I believe Helen will be remembered for never being afraid to ask the difficult questions and for leading the way for so many women.
Thanks Helen. I won’t forget you.