Helen Thomas has passed at the age of 92. The former Senior White House Correspondent had been dealing with an illness recently.
To summarize the life of a woman who has been covering politics since John F. Kennedy is no simple task. Helen Thomas became a mainstay of the White House press corp for decades, known for her hard questions and unapologetic opinions.
Born the daughter of two Lebanese immigrants in 1920, Thomas great up in Detroit. Thomas realized early on that she wanted to be a journalist, setting her mind to it in high school.
She went on write for a few now-defunct publications, until Thomas landed a job as a radio writer for United Press. It was 1943 and mass news was a growing force. Instant news was available through the air and becoming common. With the war, Americans followed the news closely.
Even this early on, Helen Thomas was changing journalism standards and breaking barriers. Up until that point, females in media usually talked about “women things” — homemaking, child rearing, and so on. Thomas had no interest in such subjects. Instead, she eventually became a full-time reporter and began covering federal news and agencies.
Showing her worth, Thomas was assigned to cover John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1960. After Kennedy won, Thomas was given the job as the first full-time female reporter assigned to the White House.
Though journalism was still very much a “good old boy’s club” at the time, Thomas did not become discouraged. Eventually she became the first woman elected to the White House Correspondents’ Association and to serve as its president. She also broke into the Gridiron Club, previously a “men only” group of journalists.
Helen Thomas became a fixture of White House journalists, often interviewing presidents. Thomas’ hard questions and desire to find answers earned her a reputation as a difficult but respected journalist. Peers and presidents respected her even if they disagreed with her. Bill Clinton once sent her a cake for her birthday while he was in the White House.
Thomas’ later years were centered on controversy. She was known to be hard on President Bush, openly criticizing him for the September 11, 2001 attacks. Thomas was also known to call President Bush “the worst president ever.”
The controversy continued, however. After a video from 2010 showed Thomas saying off-hand that Israel should “get the hell out of Palestine,” she went into retirement after giving an apology.
Despite the controversy of her later years, Helen Thomas will be long remembered for her role not only as someone blazing a trail for females in journalism, but as a journalist who set a high bar for all of her peers.