Helen Thomas, trailblazing reporter, dead at 92

Helen Thomas, trailblazing reporter, dead at 92

Helen Thomas,
Directs Question to
President Obama in 2009.

Dylan Byers/Politico

Helen Thomas, whose career covering the White House dated back to the Kennedy administration, died on Saturday at the age of 92, the Gridiron Club announced in an email to members on Saturday.

Thomas was the first woman to join the White House Correspondents' Association, and the first woman to serve as its president. She was also the first female member of the Gridiron Club, Washington's historic press group. She served for 57 years at United Press International, first as a correspondent then as a White House bureau chief, before becoming a columnist for Hearst Papers.

"Former Gridiron Club president Helen Thomas, our first female member, died Saturday morning at her Washington apartment after a long illness," Gridiron's Carl P. Leubsdorf wrote in an email to members. "She would have been 93 next month."

Present at the press briefings of 10 consecutive presidential administrations, Thomas earned herself a front-row seat at White House press briefings. Beyond Washington, her status as a trailblazing female reporter made her name a cultural reference point, even invoked in an episode of "the Simpsons."

But Thomas's career in journalism ended abruptly in 2010 when controversial remarks she made about Israeli Jews to a Rabbi were caught on camera. Thomas, a daughter of Lebanese immigrants, told the Rabbi that Israel should "get the hell out of Palestine," and that the Jewish people should go home to "Poland, Germany . . . and America and everywhere else."

On Saturday, Thomas's colleagues expressed sadness and shared memories of the veteran reporter on Twitter.

"Helen Thomas made it possible for all of us who followed: woman pioneer journalist broke barriers died today would have been 93 next month RIP," Andrea Mitchell, the NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent wrote.

Thomas was born in Winchester, Ky., in 1920, one of nine children, and raised in Detroit. She wrote three books over the course of her career: "Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times" (1999); "Thanks for the Memories Mr. President: Wit and Wisdom from the Front Row at the White House" (2002); and "Watchdogs of Democracy? The Waning Washington Press Corps and How it Has Failed the Public" (2006).

White House Correspondents' Association President Steve Thomma issued the following statement:

"Helen Thomas was a trailblazer in journalism and in the White House press corps, covering presidents from John F. Kennedy through Barack Obama.

"Starting with the Kennedy administration, she was the first woman to cover the president and not just the First Lady.

"At her urging in 1962, Kennedy said he would not attend the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents Association unless it was opened to women for the first time. It was.

"And in 1975-76, she served as the first woman president of the association.

"Women and men who’ve followed in the press corps all owe a debt of gratitude for the work Helen did and the doors she opened. All of our journalism is the better for it."

President Obama released the following statement:

"Michelle and I were saddened to learn of the passing of Helen Thomas. Helen was a true pioneer, opening doors and breaking down barriers for generations of women in journalism. She covered every White House since President Kennedy’s, and during that time she never failed to keep presidents -- myself included -- on their toes.

"What made Helen the 'Dean of the White House Press Corps' was not just the length of her tenure, but her fierce belief that our democracy works best when we ask tough questions and hold our leaders to account. Our thoughts are with Helen's family, her friends, and the colleagues who respected her so deeply.

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