July 20, 2013

Helen Thomas, dean of White House press corps, dies at 92

Not intimidated by power, Helen Thomas reported for the UPI wire service for almost 60 years.

By PATRICIA SULLIVAN The Washington Post

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In this March 26, 2009, file photo veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas asks White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs a question during the White House daily briefing in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died. She was 92.

AP

In 1960, she was assigned to report on the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy. When Kennedy won the election, there was suddenly a huge demand for stories about his glamorous wife, Jacqueline.

The Kennedy administration was her favorite, she said in one of her four books, "Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times" (1999), because of the "vibrancy and vigah" that the family exuded. She was on hand when Kennedy shook hands with a teenage Bill Clinton in July 1963.

Over the next decade, Thomas began reporting harder news, still finding the unusual and juicy tidbit. President Johnson was furious when he learned through Thomas' UPI report that his daughter Luci was engaged.

In 1970, her longtime mentor, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Merriman Smith, committed suicide. Thomas was named UPI's senior White House correspondent, the first woman to hold that post.

Known for her quick wit, Thomas didn't hesitate to exercise it on presidents. When a set of fortune-telling scales once spewed out a card for Gerald Ford saying, "You are a brilliant leader," she glanced at the card and cracked, "It got your weight wrong, too."

In China, she accompanied Pat Nixon to a farm, where the first lady wondered about the breed of some pigs in a pen. "Male chauvinist, of course," Thomas piped up. And when a man told her that ladies were not allowed in a Bible study class taught by Jimmy Carter, she retorted, "I'm no lady, I'm a reporter."

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