- Doubting Thomas offers press veterans her take on the
state of the presidency...
- As veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas signed
my program Thursday evening at the Society of Professional Journalistsâ
annual awards banquet, I said, "First time I ever asked a reporter
for an autograph."
- "Thank you, dear," she said, patting my arm.
"Donât lose heart."
- Those are words that should be engraved at the bottom
of every journalism degree. That's because I'm not sure that any business
can cause a heart to be lost or broken faster than this. And Thomas probably
knows this better than anyone because she began reporting in 1943.
- Thomas, in case you've never seen a presidential news
conference, is the woman who has haunted every U.S. president since JFK.
- I can't, in fact, recall a news conference where she
wasn't standing hawk-like, grilling men who clearly didnât want to
be grilled by anyone, especially a woman.
- Thomas, by the way, is the woman who said, "Thank
you, Mr. President," at the end of her very first press conference
- That, I think, is a wonderful tradition that continues
to this very day. It shows a little respect to make up for the kind of
lack of respect we used to hear from shouters such as Sam Donaldson, the
man Ronald Reagan could never quite hear.
- I attended this Biltmore Hotel banquet for two reasons
÷ Thomas and Jean Adelsman. Jean is the retired managing editor
of the Breeze and the recipient Thursday evening of a Journalist of the
Year award, along with Judy Muller of ABC News, Kitty Felde of KPCC's 'Talk
of the City,' Sue Manning of The Associated Press and USC law professor
- Odd how the world breathlessly awaits the Golden Globes
while honors presented the people who watch the politicians or work for
a cancer cure are as obscure as lice. In fact, there's a joke about the
Golden Globes and the foreign press that presents them. Itâs said
that on ceremony night you canât find a waiter anywhere in town.
Take this from someone who once sat at another banquet with the foreign
press ÷ a group composed of a dry cleaner from Pacoima, a large
Eastern European woman in a turban and an Egyptian shoe salesman who spent
the evening trying to cadge free drinks. Now that I think of it, they arenât
much different from domestic journalists.
- Except when it comes to Thomas, who ÷ to the 100
or so people in that room ÷ is the very essence of celebrity, a
woman who dedicated 60 years at United Press International and Hearst to
afflicting the elected.
- Keep in mind that Thomas came up in the bad old days.
Unlike Thursday night, when four of five honorees were women, she spent
decades proving herself to the male hierarchy.
- As late as 1972 she was the only woman on the Nixon China
trip. Still, she survives in a Washington press corps that she says has
gone soft, accepting presidential spin without question.
- There was a lot of that in her speech, this talk of devaluation
in the character of leadership. Not surprisingly for an admitted liberal,
she held her greatest praise for John Kennedy, the only president in her
estimation who made Americans look to their higher angels.
- Then came Johnson's Great Society and Vietnam. Nixon,
she said, was a man who would - when presented two roads - "always
choose the wrong one." He was followed by 'healing' Ford, well-meaning
Carter, Reagan's revolution, Bush Sr.'s self-destruction and Clinton's
damaging of the presidential myth.
- She seemed to have sympathy and affection for everyone
but George W. Bush, a man who she said is rising on a wave of 9-11 fear
- fear of looking unpatriotic, fear of asking questions, just fear. "We
have," she said, "lost our way."
- Thomas believes we have chosen to promote democracy with
bombs instead of largess while Congress 'defaults,' Democrats cower and
a president controls all three branches of government in the name of corporations
and the religious right.
- As she signed my program, I joked, "You sound worried."
- "This is the worst president ever," she said.
"He is the worst president in all of American history."
- The woman who has known eight of them wasn't joking.
- First Publish Date: January 19, 2003
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2003 Copley Press, Inc.
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