Helen Thomas, a pioneering White House correspondent who was raised in Detroit, passed away on July 20th, after battling a long-term illness. This boisterous journalist attended Wayne State University, and spent most of her career reporting on politics. In time, she made a name for herself at White House news conferences, beginning during the Kennedy administration and retiring in 2010. According to CNN, Thomas was considered the dean of the White House press corps due to the length of time she dedicated to her work in the White House.
Thomas was not only a whip-smart and discerning journalist, she was the first woman to attain the status of a White House correspondent – at least, when it came to hard news (think international relations as opposed to White House dinners). Presidents came to dread Thomas's often brutal questions – particularly the Bush administration, for whom Thomas's brash statements opposing the war in Iraq stirred some public contention.
No one is perfect. In fact, Thomas left a legacy of antisemitism in recent years. Many reports of her death contained speculation on her filmed condemnation in 2010 regarding the Israeli people in Palestine. While Thomas was not without bias, and may not have even considered herself a feminist, it would be doing the field of journalism a disservice not to recognize her as the groundbreaking and accomplished woman she was, and to theorize that were it not for Thomas, many high-profile women in journalism would not be as recognized for their successes as they are today.
As Julie Pace, White House correspondent for the Associated Press, tweeted after Thomas's death, “Any woman who has had the privilege of sitting in the front row of the White House briefing room owes huge debt of gratitude to Helen Thomas.”
Kai Niezgoda, NOW Intern