Helen Thomas 1920-2013

Helen Thomas, a longtime member of the White House press corps, died today at her home in Washington. She was 92.

During her time in Washington Thomas had covered 10 US Presidents for United Press International (UPI) and the Hearst Corporation, a career spanning all the way from the Eisenhower era to that of Barack Obama.

In a male-dominated industry, Thomas consistently broke new ground for women. She was the first female: officer of the National Press Club, member and later president of the White House Correspondents Association, and member of the Gridiron Club.

During her 50+ years covering the White House, Thomas gained a reputation as a journalist who asked the tough questions. When Fidel Castro was asked about the differences between American and Cuban democracy, he quipped “”I don’t have to answer questions from Helen Thomas.”

After her departure from UPI in 2000 she became much more vocal in her personal opinions, which were often critical of US foreign policy and Israel in particular. During the Bush Administration she was a thorn in the side of the press secretary, with some describing her queries as more akin to tirades than questions.

In 2010 she generated controversy by being caught on video saying that the Jews had no right to live in Palestine, and that they should “go home” to Europe or the US. As a result of the fallout from the video she retired from the White House press corps shortly thereafter.

Helen Thomas was one of the legends of journalism and while in her later years she became a cranky old coot, I don’t think it  came close to overshadowing the rest of her career. A life and legacy is much more than a single moment caught on video, and as a whole her 50+ year career leaves much to be admired. As an aspiring journalist I thank her for her contributions to the field and my thoughts and prayers go out to her family.

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