A legend in political reporting, Helen Thomas has covered every president since John F. Kennedy, earning the nickname “First Lady of the Press.” Now in her 80s, the venerable journalist Helen Thomas (born August 4, 1920) is an American news service reporter, a Hearst Newspapers columnist, and member of the White House Press Corps. She served for fifty-seven years as a correspondent and, later, White House bureau chief for United Press International (UPI). Thomas has covered every president since John F. Kennedy.
She was the first female officer of the National Press Club,
the first female member and president of the White House Correspondents Association, and
the first female member of the Gridiron Club.
She has written four books; her latest is Watchdogs of Democracy?: The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public. Thomas joined United Press International in 1943 and reported on women’s topics for their radio wire service. Later in the decade she wrote their “Names in the News” column, and after 1955 she covered federal agencies such as the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Thomas served as president of the Women’s National Press Club from 1959–60.
I say all this because it was noted, Helen Thomas visited my Blog, “Pumas Unleashed” yesterday. And I did say just the other day, whenever there is a woman who is first in her accomplishments, I will definitely find a place for her at our site dedicated to the new Madame Secretary, Hillary R. Clinton. It must of been fate, because there you were and I am honored to note your accomplishments and your career full of firsts.
Early life and career
Thomas was born in Winchester, Kentucky, to Lebanese Christian immigrants from Tripoli, Lebanon, which at the time was part of Syria. She was reared in Detroit, Michigan and attended Wayne University (now Wayne State University), graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1942. Thomas’ first job in journalism was as a copygirl for the now-defunct Washington Daily News, but shortly after she was promoted to cub reporter she was laid off as part of massive cutbacks at the paper.
In November 1960, Thomas began covering then President-elect John F. Kennedy, following him to the White House in January 1961 as a UPI correspondent. Thomas became known as the “Sitting Buddha“, and it was during Kennedy’s administration that she began the tradition of ending all presidential press conferences with a signature “Thank you, Mr. President”.
Thomas was the only female print journalist to travel with President Richard Nixon to China during his historic trip in 1972. She has traveled around the world several times with Presidents Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush,
Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, and has covered every Economic Summit since 1975, working up to the position of UPI’s White House Bureau Chief, a post she would hold for over twenty-five years. While serving as White House Bureau Chief, she authored a regular column for UPI, “Backstairs at the White House,” which provided an insider’s view of various presidential administrations.
Traditionally, Thomas sat in the front row and asked the first question during White House press conferences, but according to Thomas in a 2006 Daily Show interview, this ended because she no longer represents a wire service. During the Bush administration, Thomas had been moved to the back row during press conferences, although she still sat in the front row during press briefings. She was called upon at briefings on a daily basis but no longer ended Presidential news conferences saying “Thank you, Mr. President”. When asked why she was seated in the back row, she said, “Because they don’t like me… I ask too many questions.”
I will try to keep up with Helen on “Pumas Unleashed” for her latest take on the new President. I have the feeling it’s going to be a ‘wild and bumpy ride’, Helen. I think your up for it and there may be time for another book from you… the evolution of the presidency as seen from the front and the back rows of the press corp!