Helen Thomas, Long Dean Of White House Press, Dies At 92
Saturday, July 20, 2013
Long-time White House correspondent Helen Thomas, who covered every president from Eisenhower to Obama, has died at age 92, according to The Gridiron Club & Foundation.
Thomas, who spent much of her career at United Press International before switching in her last decade in journalism to Heart Newspapers as a columnist, died Saturday morning at her Washington apartment after a long illness, according to the Gridiron Club, where Thomas was the first female member and a former president.
Her longevity at the White House gave Thomas a coveted front-row seat at briefings and allowed her, as the senior wire-service reporter, the first question at presidential news conferences. That ended when she left UPI in 2000.
NPR's David Folkenflik reports that the sometimes controversial journalist "broke barriers that prevented women from rising in the Washington Press Corps."
Thomas was born to Lebanese immigrants of little means and grew up in Michigan, attending Wayne State University before heading to the nation's capital as a copygirl for now-defunct Washington Daily News.
She covered women's issues, but held onto the White House beat for UPI, staying for decades.
Folkenflik says that "over time, her largely left-of-center views became more pronounced."
But in appearance on NPR's Talk of the Nation in Aug. 1999, she defended the White House press against accusations that it had gone to far in pursuing the Monica Lewinksy scandal that led to President Bill Clinton's impeachment.
NPR's Talk of the Nation in 1999 following the Monica Lewinsky scandal and impeachment of President Clinton.
"Well, I know we're being accused of overkill, but I think that the aggression [comes] in the aftermath of being lied to for nine months," she said. "A certain disillusionment does set in, and we all realize that we were not aggressive enough. We didn't ask enough questions."
At age 89, after decades covering Washington presidential politics, Thomas' career finally unraveled when she was interviewed on the White House lawn by RabbiLive.com. Asked for her comments on Israel, she replied: "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine."
The remark touched off a firestorm and Hearst dropped her shortly thereafter.
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