Helen Thomas Dies at 92; Journalist Was the Feisty Scourge of Presidents (And Juice)
Helen Thomas, a wire service correspondent and columnist whose sharp questions from the front row of the White House press room challenged and annoyed 10 presidents and who was effective in divulging information that federal officials tried to keep secret, died July 20 at her home in Washington. She was 92.
A friend, retired journalist Muriel Dobbin, confirmed her death. No immediate cause of death was disclosed, but Ms. Thomas had been on dialysis for a kidney ailment.
Unintimidated by presidents or press secretaries, Ms. Thomas was known as the dean of the White House press corps for her longevity in the beat. She reported for the United Press International wire service for almost 60 years.
Among the most-recognized reporters in America, Ms. Thomas was a short, dark-eyed woman with a gravelly voice who, for many years, rose from her front-row seat at presidential news conferences to ask the first or second question. For nearly 30 years, she closed the sessions with a no-nonsense “Thank you, Mr. President.”
“Helen was a true pioneer, opening doors and breaking down barriers for generations of women in journalism,” President Obama said in a statement. “She covered every White House since President Kennedy’s, and during that time she never failed to keep presidents — myself included — on their toes.”
Ms. Thomas’s pointed queries often agitated the powerful, but she was also lauded for posing questions “almost like a housewife in Des Moines would ask,” a colleague once said. She asked President Richard M. Nixon point-blank what his secret plan to end the Vietnam War was, and she asked President Ronald Reagan what right the United States had to invade Grenada in 1983.
When President George H.W. Bush announced that the defense budget would remain the same after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of communism in Europe, she succinctly asked, “Who’s the enemy?”
“I respect the office of the presidency,” she told Ann McFeatters for a 2006 profile in Ms. magazine, “but I never worship at the shrines of our public servants. They owe us the truth.”
No mention is made of her career-ending outburst against Teh Juice.
Helen Thomas was a pioneer and blazed many pathways, and she should be remembered as a dedicated journalist. It is sad that she exposed herself as a bigot in her later years, when she should have been enjoying the rewards of a distinguished career.