In Memorium: Helen Thomas

Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Renowned journalist Helen Thomas reads a copy of The New York Times in her front row seat in the White House Briefing Room on August 2, 2006 (photo courtesy of Brenden Smalowski/Getty Images)

Helen Amelia Thomas, a pioneering American journalist whose career spanned eight decades and marked the inclusion of women into one of the country's most elite all-male organizations, died on Saturday at the age of 92.  Hired in 1943 by United Press, she remained with that press outlet (which eventually became United Press International) and served in a variety of capacities for the next 57 years.  In 1961, she was named the UPI's White House correspondent--the first woman given such a  position--and stayed there as bureau manager until she resigned and moved to Hearst Newspapers in 2000 to write a national affairs opinion column.  It was in that position that her controversial personal opinions on Middle Eastern affairs were recorded and posted online which resulted in her abrupt resignation in 2010.  She moved on to a suburban Washington weekly seven months later and remained on their staff until her passing.  In addition to her milestone in the White House Briefing Room, Thomas was also the first woman officer of the National Press Club, first female president of the White House Correspondents Association and first woman member of the Gridiron Club, the oldest and one of the most prestigious journalistic organizations in the nation's capital. 

Unlike my previous "in memorium" subject (former 60 Minutes contributor Andy Rooney), I was not very familiar with Thomas' work so I cannot provide a personal reflection on her passing.  Bob Schieffer, CBS News' journalist and current host of that network's Face the Nation program, provided this personal and humorous remembrance of his former colleague on yesterday's show:

One thing that I want to keep in mind for my upcoming course on opinion writing this fall is this: if a columnist with the experience and history of a Helen Thomas can be forced to apologize for an  off-the-cuff voicing of tightly held work-related beliefs simply because those views are not regarded as popular (or politically correct), what chance would someone like me have if I tread into similar territory?  And why do the daily screeds of political commentators aired on hundreds of radio and television outlets and occupying op/ed pages across the country escape similar scrutiny by being categorized as "free speech" or the "fair and balanced" treatment of an issue?  This will be brought up, Professor Kalita.

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