On July 20, headlines reported the news. The doyen of the White House House press corps was gone.
After a long illness, the Gridiron Club and Foundation announced her passing. She ended decades covering presidential press conferences saying, “Thank you, Mr. President.”
She was special. She’ll be sorely missed. She spoke truth to power. Too few like her remain. Washington targets those who do.
She withstood tough challenges. She did it throughout her career. She was born on August 4, 1920. She’s a Winchester, KY native. Her father was a grocer. She was one of nine children.
She was the first female White House press corps representative. She worked for UPI. She covered US administrations for five decades. She began during the Kennedy years. Her tenure was unprecedented.
She became a Washington Daily News copy girl. She advanced to reporter status. She did so quickly. Her talent was too good to hold back.
She began reporting local news. She did women’s stories. In the early 1950s, she covered Washington celebrities and government agencies.
In 1960, she covered President-elect John Kennedy. She attended daily press briefings and conferences. In 1962, she convinced Kennedy to let women attend annual White House dinners. Journalists and photographers were invited.
In 1970, she became UPI’s first female White House Bureau chief. In 1975, she was the first woman admitted to Washington’s Gridiron Club. Later she became its president.
In 1975-76, she was White House Correspondents Association’s first female president.
Over the span of her career, she became a legend in her own time. No one in modern-day mainstream US journalism matched her. She was a fixture at White House press conferences.
She was called “the First Lady of the Press.” It was for good reason. She covered 10 presidents for over five decades. She asked hard-hitting questions.
She wrote about what readers need to know. She sat in the first row. For decades, she asked the first question. It was a special honor perhaps few, if any others, enjoyed.
Throughout her career, she received numerous awards. She got over 30 honorary degrees. In 1976, she was named one of the World Almanac’s 25 Most Influential Women in America.
In 1986, she received the University of Kansas William Allen White Foundation Award for Journalistic Merit. In 1991, she won the Freedom Forum Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media.
In 1998, the White House Correspondents Association established the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award. It did so in her honor.
In 2000, Wayne State University created the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award.
In 2002, the National Newspaper Association gave her a lifetime achievement award. In 2007, so did the Washington Press Club Foundation. The same year, she received the National Research Center for Women & Families Foremother Award.
In 2010, she got the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) lifetime achievement award.
The same year, her career prematurely end. She spoke truth to Israel. She said Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine (and) go home.”
She meant Israeli occupiers. She expressed frustration and anger about 62 years of persecution. It’s over 65 now. It’s 46 under brutalizing militarized occupation. It’s horrific enough to enrage any justice defender.
Thomas explained more. Her comments “reflect(ed her) heartfelt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon,” she stressed.
In April 2012, PLO General Mission to America head Maen Areikat honored Thomas for her “long career in the field of journalism, during which she defended the Palestinian position every step of the way.”
According to Washington’s PLO office, its Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi “presented Thomas with the appreciation and blessing of the president and the Palestinian people, for all of her actions supporting Palestine in the West.”
Ralph Nader called her “a pioneering, no-nonsense newswoman.” She’s a “hero of honest journalism and women’s rights.”
She’s “the scourge of dissembling presidents and White House press secretaries.” In 2006, she challenged George Bush saying:
Your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of Americans and Iraqis. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true.
In mid-2010, she asked Obama: “When are you going to get out of Afghanistan? Why are we continuing to kill and die there? What is the real excuse?”
Her trademark was asking tough “why” questions. Self-censoring wasn’t her style. She knew lies when she heard them. She challenged duplicitous dissembling.
She rejected sugarcoated rubbish. She didn’t look the other way. She refused to roll over for power.
She challenged wrongs needing exposure. She did so responsibly. She believed good journalism involves “comfort(ing) the afflicted and afflict(ing) the comfortable.”
She took Aldous Huxley’s comments seriously. “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored,” he said.
She cared. It showed. She spent a lifetime telling readers what they need to know. She did so reponsibly. It bears repeating. She’ll be sorely missed.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His new book is titled How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening. http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour/