Bush Finally Calls on 'First Lady of the Press'
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
As our reporter Don Gonyea pointed out earlier, President Bush today uttered a name he has not uttered in quite some time.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Helen.
BLOCK: As in Helen Thomas. Known in some circles as Dean of the Washington Press Corp. The longtime UPI correspondent is now a columnist for Hearst Newspapers.
Well today, after more than three years of avoiding her in news conferences, President Bush called her name. Helen Thomas is known for giving presidents a tough time. She first got the White House beat in the early sixties. She's been there from JFK to LBJ, through Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan.
President RONALD REAGAN: And Helen, you have the first question.
Ms. HELEN THOMAS (Hearst Newspapers Columnist): Mr. President the world is applauding the initiative that . . .
BLOCK: And then Bush the elder, and Clinton.
In 2000, she quit UPI in protest after it was bought by News World Communications, the company controlled by the Revered Sun Yung Moon's Unification Church. For years, Helen Thomas asked the first question at presidential news conferences, a role that's given to wire service reporters. But when she left UPI, she lost that privilege. And today, the long freeze-out of Helen Thomas entered at least a brief thaw. When President Bush finally called on her today, she issued a humorous warning.
Ms. THOMAS: You're going to be sorry.
BLOCK: You're going to be sorry, she said. Then she launched into the probing question we heard earlier. But a few seconds into the president's answer, she wasn't satisfied, and tried to follow up only to be rebuffed.
President BUSH: You're flat wrong Helen, in all due respect.
Ms. THOMAS: Every . . .
President BUSH: No hold on for a second please.
Ms. THOMAS: Do you deny this?
President BUSH: Excuse me, excuse me.
BLOCK: Then she tried again moments later.
President BUSH: Hold on for a second. Let, let . . .
Ms. THOMAS: ...anything for you.
President BUSH: Excuse me for a second please. Excuse me for a second. They did . . .
BLOCK: And finally as the president continued to talk, she offered one more interruption.
President BUSH: And Helen, excuse me. That's where, that's where. . .
BLOCK: In the end, the president got through his answer and Helen Thomas said thank you.
The president, who had agreed with Thomas that he might regret giving her the floor, had the last word.
President BUSH: I didn't really regret it. I kind of semi-regret it. (LAUGH)
BLOCK: Helen Thomas told us today that she doesn't really care if the president calls on her, but she just wants real questions asked. When asked if she'd been ignored this long by any other president, she replied, a lot of them would've liked to. I annoy them.
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