News Column

Washington Reporter Helen Thomas Dead at 92

July 21, 2013

Helen Thomas, who covered 10 presidents in nearly 60 years with United Press International, died Saturday at the age of 92, Washington's Gridiron Club said.

Thomas was the first woman to join the Gridiron Club, one of many "firsts" she achieved during an epic career in Washington that began during World War II and ran until 2010.

The Gridiron Club said in an email to its members Saturday that Thomas died at her Washington home after a long illness.

Thomas began covering the White House during the Eisenhower administration and was the UPI White House bureau chief from 1974 until she left the wire service in 2000. She spent another 10 years as a columnist for Hearst Newspapers.

National Public Radio correspondent David Folkenflik said Thomas "broke barriers that prevented women from rising in the Washington press corps.

Thomas' long career was not without controversy. She was known for asking blunt questions from her front-row seat in the White House press room and refusing to accept answers that were vague or off the subject.

CNN quoted Thomas saying, "I have never covered the president in any way other than that he is ultimately responsible."

Although she was well beyond retirement age, Thomas saw her career come to a premature end in 2010. She became the target of outrage and controversy when she told an amateur videographer outside the White House that Israel should "get the hell out of Palestine."

Thomas later apologized for the remarks but did not back down from her opinion. "They do not reflect my heartfelt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance," she said in a subsequent column. "May that day come soon."

Thomas was born August 4, 1920 in Kentucky to Lebanese immigrants. She spent her youth in Detroit before taking an entry-level job with the Washington Star. She moved over to United Press in 1943 and began covering the White House in 1961.

Her husband, Douglas Cornell, died in 1982.

Thomas was the first woman to join the White House Correspondents' Association and served as the group's first president.

Source: Copyright UPI 2013

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