Thomas covered every president of the United States from Eisenhower to Obama
Helen Thomas, the doyenne of the White House press corps, has died. She was 92.
Thomas was a pioneering journalist whose decades-long career reporting on the powerful spanned a period of tectonic social and political change in the country. She covered every U.S. president from the Eisenhower administration through the Obama administration as a reporter for United Press International and later as a columnist for Hearst Newspapers.
However, Thomas' career was derailed in its final years over controversial comments she made about the state of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In a 2010 interview on the White House lawn with Rabbi David Nesenoff of RabbiLive.com, Thomas said that Israeli Jews should "go home."
"Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine," Thomas said, adding, "Remember, these people are occupied, and it's their land. It's not German, it's not Poland."
A controversy quickly erupted, forcing Thomas to resign from Hearst Newspapers within days of her remarks. President Barack Obama characterized her comments as offensive and said that Thomas was right to resign.
It was an ignominious end to a professional legacy that had been characterized by a willingness to ask tough, uncompromising questions to the country's political leaders from her front row seat in the White House press room. Neither party was spared her often-bristling queries.
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In 2006, for instance, she pressed President George W. Bush about his motivations for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, saying that claims that the country housed weapons of mass destruction had turned out to be false.
"Why did you really want to go to war? …. You have said it wasn't oil … quest for oil, it hasn't been Israel, or anything else. What was it?" Thomas asked.
She turned that same penetrating glare on the Obama White House, accusing the president's team of trying to stage-manage press coverage in a way that was reminiscent of Richard Nixon.
Thomas, the child of Lebanese immigrants, grew up in Detroit, Mich., and graduated from Wayne State University. She joined UPI in 1943 and began her 57-year career at the wire service by covering women's issues.
In 1961, she became UPI's first White House correspondent, going on to write six books, the bulk of them relating to her years covering the doings at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
A female journalist at a time when the profession was primarily made up of men, Thomas set several important milestones for her gender, becoming the female officer of the National Press Club, the first female member and president of the White House press corps and the White House Correspondents' Association and the first female member of the Gridiron Club.
She wrote three books — "Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times," "Thanks for the Memories Mr. President: Wit and Wisdom from the Front Row at the White House" and "Watchdogs of Democracy? The Waning Washington Press Corps and How it Has Failed the Public" — and was married once, to Associated Press White House reporter Douglas Cornell, in 1971. Cornell died in 1982.