Live Web cast July 13, 2000, 1 p.m. ET
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If journalism is the “first rough draft of history,” then Helen Thomas has written many first drafts during her 59-year career.
The venerable UPI reporter took a front row seat to history on a daily basis during her decades as a White House correspondent. Colleagues and critics alike agree she was one of the best.
Thomas covered eight Presidents over the years -- from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton. Lyndon Johnson was mad at her for breaking the news of his daughter Luci’s wedding; Nixon asked her to pray for him during the Watergate crisis; all the Presidents knew they had to deal with her tough questions. Although she always tried to treat them with respect, she was never afraid to ruffle feathers to get the story. At Presidential press conferences she usually asked the first question, and always ended the sessions with her signature, “Thank you, Mr. President.”
For a woman, it wasn’t easy getting to the front row of the White House briefing room. Thomas broke many barriers on her way to the top. She did it with grit, chutzpah, and talent. Basically, it started on vacation--President-elect John F. Kennedy’s in Palm Beach, Florida, in 1960. Seizing an opportunity, Thomas veered from the “woman’s angle” stories she was expected to file, reported on the news of the day, and never looked back.
In 1970 Thomas was promoted to the position of White House correspondent.
She was the only print journalist to go on President Nixon’s historic trip to China in 1972. Thomas became UPI's White House bureau chief in 1974, the first woman to hold such a position for a wire service. When the National Press Club opened its membership to women in 1971, Thomas became its first female officer. She became the first female member of the exclusive press organization, the Gridiron Club, in 1975, and then became its president in 1993.
Thomas ended her UPI career in May 2000, resigning after it was sold to News World Communications, a company controlled by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church.
Thomas was born on August 4, 1920 in Winchester, Kentucky to George Thomas and Mary Thomas. Her parents had emigrated to the U.S. in 1903 with only $17 between them. Thomas went to Wayne University and after graduation moved to Washington, D.C. to start her long career.
In her recent book, “Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times” Thomas wrote, "We in the press have a special role since there is no other institution in our society ... that can hold the president accountable. I do believe that our democracy can endure and prevail only if the American people are informed." For decades, Helen Thomas kept the public well informed.