Late Bloomers

helen thomas

Helen Thomas, Legendary Reporter

January 26, 2010
by Sarah Amandolare
Helen Thomas, a groundbreaking reporter and author, has witnessed firsthand changes in the media and in the political landscape of America. Her tough questioning of presidents and other political figures sets the standard for today’s journalists, and her gritty refusal to back down may never be replicated. 

Helen Thomas’ Early Days

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Helen Thomas was born Aug. 4, 1920, in Winchester, Ky., to Lebanese immigrants. She was the seventh child of nine, according to The Biography Channel Web site. 

At age 4, Thomas moved with her family to Detroit, Mich. While in high school, she realized she wanted to become a journalist. The job seemed “a perfect outlet for her boundless curiosity,” and she went on to work for the school newspaper at Wayne State University in Detroit.

She moved to Washington, D.C., after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1942, and took a position with United Press (now United Press International or UPI) one year later. Thomas wrote about “local news for radio” until 1955 when she moved to a new beat, covering the U.S. Department of Justice. The position had her covering Capitol Hill, the F.B.I. and the Departments of Health, Education and Welfare.

Her first presidential assignment was coverage of a John F. Kennedy family vacation, and “from then on she attended presidential press conferences and briefings.”

Helen Thomas’ Notable Accomplishments

According to Thomas’ Web site, she was “the first woman to close a presidential news conference with the traditional ‘Thank you, Mr. President’” during her years covering the JFK administration. She broke other boundaries as well, becoming the first woman officer of the National Press Club, the first female officer of the White House Correspondents' Association and the first woman to be a member of the Gridiron Club.

In May 2000, after decades of covering presidents for United Press, Thomas signed on as a columnist for Hearst News Service. 

Read a selection of Thomas’ recent columns for Hearst on TheBostonChannel.com.

Books by Helen Thomas, including “Listen Up, Mr. President” and “Watchdogs of Democracy?” are described on her Web site. In “Watchdogs,” Thomas zeroes in on “the precipitous decline in the quality and ethics of political reportage—and issues a clarion call for change.” 

The Rest of the Story

In February 2009, President Obama became the 10th “American president to call on Helen Thomas at a White House news conference,” according to The New York Times. Thomas has been considered “dean of the White House press corps” for several years, and has been asking the tough questions since JFK was in office. During that same news conference last February, President Obama also called on a 26-year-old Huffington Post reporter named Sam Stein, signaling the clashing worlds of old and new media.

President Obama and Helen Thomas
share the same birthday. Last year, the president surprised Thomas with a plate of cupcakes for her birthday, and sat down for a quick conversation and photograph with the reporter.

Thomas has been a staunch critic of former President George W. Bush. In this YouTube clip, she grills the former president about his intentions for going to war in Iraq. Although she’s often considered a representative of the liberal media, Thomas has been critical of the Obama administration, particularly for its dealings with the press, as Associated Content explains.
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