Helen Thomas

A dominant figure in White House press coverage since the Kennedy administration, Helen Thomas was a reporter for United Press International whose signature brand of questioning made her a favorite among newsreaders and ... Read more »
Born: 08/03/1920 in Winchester, Kentucky, USA

Filmography

Actor (21)

Real Time with Bill Maher 2004 - 2006 (Tv Show)

Actor

Walter Cronkite: Witness to History 2005 - 2006 (TV Show)

Actor

Orwell Rolls in His Grave 2004 (Movie)

Herself (Actor)

Intimate Portrait: Lady Bird Johnson 1999 - 2000 (TV Show)

Actor

The Press Secretary 2000 (Movie)

Herself--Hearst News Service (Actor)

Inside the White House Press Corps 1998 - 1999 (TV Show)

Actor

Pat Nixon 1998 - 1999 (TV Show)

Actor

Secret History of the Presidency 1998 - 1999 (TV Show)

Actor

Ageless Heroes 1997 - 1998 (TV Show)

Actor

Helen Thomas: First Lady of the Press 1997 - 1998 (TV Show)

Actor

JFK: A Personal Story 1996 - 1997 (TV Show)

Actor

Nancy Reagan: The President's Leading Lady 1996 - 1997 (TV Show)

Actor

Riding the Tiger 1996 - 1997 (TV Show)

Actor

Dave 1993 (Movie)

Herself (Actor)

A Day in the Life of the White House 1989 - 1990 (TV Show)

Actor

Unauthorized Biography: Richard M Nixon 1988 - 1989 (TV Show)

Actor

She Says: Women in News (TV Show)

Actor
Art Department (1)

Carry On Cabby (Movie)

(Set Designer)

Biography

A dominant figure in White House press coverage since the Kennedy administration, Helen Thomas was a reporter for United Press International whose signature brand of questioning made her a favorite among newsreaders and a foil to many a president. Thomas spared no quarter when it came to interrogating leaders and representatives on pressing issues of the day; on occasion, her line of questioning landed her in hot water, most notably on issues regarding the Middle East. That subject ultimately ended her half-century as a journalist when comments regarding Israel were widely condemned. Despite this blemish, the integrity, independence of thought and dedication to the truth made her one of the most respected news figures of the 20th century and beyond.

She was the seventh of nine children born to immigrant parents from Tripoli, Lebanon; father George Antonious, whose name was Anglicized to "Thomas" at Ellis Island, ran a grocery store, while his wife, Mary Rowady, raised the children. Thomas was born in Winchester, KY but raised in Detroit, MI, where she experienced discrimination from her white peers. Thomas endured the epithets and made her way to Wayne University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English in 1942. Her first job in news was as a copygirl for the Washington Daily News, but quickly progressed to cub reporter before being laid off as part of cutbacks. In 1943, she joined UPI as a reporter on women's issues for its radio wire service, which required her to rise and begin filing her reports at 5:30 in the morning. After 12 years and little more than $24 a week, she graduated to the "Names in the News Column," where she interviewed Washington celebrities. By 1955, she was covering several federal government beats, including the FBI and Department of Justice. In 1959, Thomas became the president of the Women's National Press Club, a title she held until 1960. She also became the first woman officer for the men's-only National Press Club after it opened its doors to female journalists.

In 1960, Thomas covered President-elect John F. Kennedy as part of the UPI White House team before following him to the White House in 1961. She soon developed a reputation as a dogged and relentless correspondent, interviewing anyone who would give her even the slightest bit of information on Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline. Cuban leader Fidel Castro once commented that the difference between democracy in the United States and Cuba was that he did not have to answer to Helen Thomas. During the Kennedy administration, she also began the long-standing tradition of concluding every press conference by thanking the commander in chief for his time. Her tenacity earned her the title of "Newspaper Woman of Washington" by the American Newspaper Women's Club in 1968. Seven years later, Ladies Home Journal bestowed upon her their "Woman of the Year" award for communications. The year 1975 also marked Thomas' tenure as the president of the White House Correspondents Association, and the first woman to hold that office in 50 years. The following year, she was named as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in America by World Almanac.

Thomas's relationships with each of the presidents she covered were as varied and complex as the men themselves. Lyndon B. Johnson's dislike of the press occasionally translated to Thomas, who occasionally felt dismissed by him; however, Johnson also had his warm side, which she praised in print. She was open in her dislike for Richard Nixon, though they had shared a mutual appreciation early in his tenure: Nixon personally invited Thomas - one of only three women journalists - to join him on his historic visit to China in 1972, but after the Watergate scandal broke, each party viewed each other with disdain. She was effusive in her praise of Gerald Ford and especially his wife, First Lady Betty Ford, and noted both the lack of ease and compassion with which Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn approached the presidency.

She was less than effusive about Ronald Reagan, whose famously personable nature she found less than sincere, and described George H.W. Bush as hobbled by his association with Reagan. Her opinion of Bill Clinton changed over the course of his two terms, much as it had with Nixon; she initially praised his accomplishments, but became critical after the scandals and impeachment battles that closed his time in the Oval Office. As for George W. Bush, there was no question as to her feelings: at a banquet for the Society of Professional Journalists, she told a colleague that he was the worst president in American history, and described Vice President Dick Cheney as "another liar." The comments, which were published in the Florida newspaper, The Daily Breeze, earned her persona non grata status: having previously sat in the front row at press conferences, she was moved to the back row and frequently ignored. Both Thomas and the White House initially ascribed the move as a response to her departure from UPI in 2000 after its purchase by News World Communications, Inc., a media company owned by Unification Church leader Reverend Sun Myung Moon. Since she was no longer writing for a wire service, she did not require the priority seating. In later interviews, however, Thomas said that the displacement was a response to the tone of her questions.

After joining Hearst Newspapers as an opinion columnist in 2000, Thomas's tone towards the Bush administration turned more aggressive. No longer required to "censor" herself, as she described her half-century as a reporter, she drilled Bush and his spokespeople for their position on Iraq, the war on terror and its attitude towards Israel and Lebanon in particular. Her comments earned her sharp rebukes from several of her colleagues, and on more than one occasion, she was shut out of participating in Bush press conferences. When Barack Obama assumed the presidency in 2009, some assumed that Thomas would turn down the heat on her line of questions, but by the summer of that year, she was calling out press secretary Richard Gibbs on his alleged control of the press. In a tense exchange during a press conference, Thomas stated that not even Nixon had attempted to manipulate the press as much as the Obama presidency.

In May of 2010, Thomas was interviewed at the White House by blogger Rabbi David Nesenoff of RabbiLive.com. Asked for her comments on Israel, Thomas said in blunt terms that the Jewish people should get out of Palestine and go back to Germany, Poland or America. Nesenoff posted the video of his interview on his site, which set off a firestorm of controversy among politicians, journalists, Jews and Arabs around the world. Calls for her resignation were answered on June 7, 2010 when Thomas announced that she would retire from journalism. She was dropped by her speaking engagement agency, and Holocaust survivors protested a planned statue of Thomas at the Arab American National Museum of Dearborn, MI. Despite the scandal, nothing could diminish her legacy. In addition to her 50 years of service to the press, Thomas was the author of numerous memoirs and observations about politics, as well as a children's book, The Great White House Breakout (2008). Two significant journalism awards bore her name: the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award was established by the White House Correspondents' Association, while her alma mater, Wayne State University, established the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity award.

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