Five Reads from Late Groundbreaker Helen Thomas

Before today's news regarding the death of 92-year-old journalist Helen Thomas, you may not have heard of the irrepressible, sometimes controversial — but never fully silenced — groundbreaking reporter. But you should have.

She covered the White House for over half a century and coined the signature line, "Thank you, Mr.President" to signal the end of press meetings. She was the first woman to be Washington bureau chief for a wire service, and the first female officer at the National Press Club.

She was determined, and respected, and she paved the way for many journalists to follow.

Here's a roundup of her stories you shouldn't miss:

1. Her Big Break: "Luci Baines Johnson Bride of Pat Nugent"

Her first breakthrough came in 1960, when Thomas was sent to Florida to cover the vacation of the president-elect and his family, in her first presidency-related assignment — she did such a good job that JFK's successor, Lyndon Johnson, was upset that he learned of his daughter Luci's engagement from Thomas' story. She would soon break out of the softer "women's beats" though, and be the first woman reporter to accompany Nixon on his trip to China.

2. A Transcript of Her Bold Bush Moment

Notorious for her persistence when grilling subjects — a White House press secretary once described her questioning tactics as "torture" — one of Thomas' more famous moments came when she interrogated Bush on his reasons for invading Iraq.


HELEN THOMAS: They didn’t do anything to you or to our country
BUSH: Look — excuse me for a second, please. Excuse me for a second. They did. The Taliban provided safe haven for al-Qaeda. That’s where al-Qaeda trained — HELEN THOMAS: I’m talking about Iraq.

3. An Extract From Her Biting Book about Journalism: Watchdogs of Democracy? The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public .

More than just an exploration of the current state of journalism, the book is a call to arms of sorts to reporters everywhere. In it, Thomas urges the press to perform its duty to "follow the truth, without fear or favor, wherever it leads them."

"Journalists, as the purveyors of information, are the watchdogs of democracy. Without an informed people, there can be no democracy. [...]

I have often had the opportunity to question the most powerful public servant in the country, the president of the United States. I admit I approached the task with awe for the office, but not reverence for the men who've held it. For one thing, I don't believe it is our duty to worship at the shrine of any leader, but to keep the spotlight on them constantly to see whether they are upholding the public trust."

4. Her Obama Should Pick a Woman Article

In 2009, Thomas penned a story arguing that President Obama should appoint a female to the U.S. Supreme Court — having been a woman in a male-dominated field, the journalist fiercely pushed for the president to nominate Sotomayer. Which he did.

5. Helen's Post-Controversy Playboy Interview

Thomas' career plummeted after a two-minute video clip showing the journalist making pro-Palestinian comments went viral, effectively forcing the reporter to resign. After the scandal, Thomas chose to speak with Playboy about what happened.


PLAYBOY: When people write your obituary—— THOMAS: [Eyes suddenly fill with tears] Oh, I know what they’re going to say: “anti-Semite.” PLAYBOY: That has to bother you after all your years of hard work. THOMAS: [Starts to cry] I’m a reporter. PLAYBOY: What’s making you emotional? THOMAS: I’m a reporter. [sobs] I know damn well what they’re going to say because they have their print, they have their ink. They don’t give a damn about the truth. They have to have it their way, and they’ll be writing my obituary.