Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Thomas the Terrible

Tonight I had the opportunity to see my favorite journalist, Helen Thomas. She was the featured speaker at an event sponsored by Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania at the College of Physicians. Great setting for a great event. Almost didn't get in; the event was sold out. Luckily, my friend Steph has lots of connections and she was able to pull strings. I even got to meet Thomas before the speech and chat with her a bit.

Her talk was more than great. She gave her view of the current political environment and described each President that she has covered as White House correspondent, from Kennedy to Bush. Her talk was interesting, entertaining, amusing and insightful. She then took questions from the audience. She epitomizes the term "journalist." She's a feisty, funny woman who speaks truth to power. The men who also supposedly practice her profession should be ashamed in comparison. Especially now, when the press has so wimped out and abdicated their role.

An essay written by Jack Lessenberry, A Press Conference Fixture, describes Thomas:

For years, Helen Thomas was a fixture at nationally televised White House news conferences. She was the short lady who always wore red to catch the eye of whomever was President, and who traditionally asked the first question.

These days, this President doesn'’t call on her any more. She has gone from being a hard news reporter to being a columnist, and President Bush doesn'’t like what she has to say.

There are those who see her as a peevish and partisan nag, a scowling old lady who asks irritating questions. Indeed, at one time or another, she has ticked off every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower.

But to me, she is someone who deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award our nation can bestow. She also deserves far more recognition from the feminist community for what she has done for women in journalism.

Let'’s talk first about what she has done for women. She became a reporter in an era when women didn'’t go into journalism and when no woman could never have dreamed of covering politics in Washington -– especially not women of her background.

Helen Thomas was the daughter of working-class Lebanese immigrants who settled in Detroit. She took off for Washington -– she said to visit a friend -– during World War II and never looked back.

She became White House bureau chief for UPI when United Press was still a very big deal. And she smashed through every glass ceiling they put in her way. Women couldn'’t join the National Press Club or the Gridiron Club. Helen, of course, eventually did both.

* * * *

These days, she lets her opinions hang out. She is a liberal, and a proud one. But she is prouder of being an American, and a journalist. “Democracy dies behind closed doors,” she likes to say, and that maxim is behind virtually every question she asks.

Long before almost everyone else, she was asking the White House why they were so sure there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and why they thought they had enough troops to secure the situation. She opposed the war, and openly thinks that this President has violated the law and abused his public trust.

As mentioned, she doesn't get to ask the White House too many questions any more. However, she did have a chance to question Bush at a White House Press Conference in March, and as usual, she took him to task. See the video at Crooks and Liars. The Progressive also has an interesting interview with Thomas.

I have sung the praises of Thomas on many occasions, see, e.g., Worst. President. Ever. (interview with Wolf Blitzer), Leader of the Pack (her Nation article - Lap Dogs of the Press), Give 'em Hell, Helen (interview with Hugh Hewitt) and Thomas is a Terror.

And then, of course, there is the recent video skit she did with Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondent's Dinner, as he auditioned for Press Secretary, The Colbert Lampoon. Very entertaining.

You guessed it, I'm a big fan. So I was really happy that I got to see her in person. What a treat!

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