Editor’s Note: This piece was written by our sometimes correspondent Mallory Thompson!
When she first joined the White House press corps, not many other women had been given the chance to cover the president. But 57 years and eight Presidents later, Helen Thomas is still there. “I was the man who came to dinner,” she told GWU students at the Elliott School last night.
The longest serving member of the White House press corps, Helen Thomas began covering wrote for United Press International beginning with President John Kennedy’s inauguration in 1960 and covers the Obama administration today as a columnist for Hearst newspapers.
Bringing her signature white pearls and fiery personality, the legendary journalist reflected on her years as a White House correspondent. The lecture was based on her new autobiography, Listen Up Mr. President: Everything You Always Wanted Your President to Know and Do, and was sponsored by WRGW News, SMPA and GWTV.
Thomas first joined UPI in 1943 writing radio wire copy and rose in the wire service’s ranks until eventually becoming White House bureau chief. She left UPI after a change in ownership in 2000. Less than two months later, she joined Hearst Newspapers.
While she has always had strong opinions about the administrations she was covering, none of it made it into her copy for UPI. But at Hearst, she was asked to inject opinion into her pieces. She told the crowd, “Now I wake up every morning and ask myself, ‘Who do I hate today?’”
She shared many of those opinions last night – starting her lecture with a message to President Obama – “Get us out of the wars that President Bush started,” she said. “We should declare a victory and withdraw.” She also expressed her desire for a single-payer healthcare system and called legislators in opposition to the bill hypocrites since they benefit from one of the best healthcare plans in the country.
Thomas also took time to share some insights about the Presidents she covered. Her first President, JFK, was her favorite. She said he was inspired, grew while in office and learned from his mistakes. She said Clinton had good intentions, but became “entangled with an intern.” On George W. Bush, she said, “he wanted to be a war president and he was – his dreams were fulfilled to much of our horror.” And on President Obama, she said, “his heard is in the right place, but he lacks courage” especially when it comes to the healthcare debate.
Photo courtesy of WRGW, used under a Creative Commons license [flickr stream]