Veteran Journalist Thomas Resumes Column in News-Press

helenthomassolo045Legendary journalist and 50-year veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas has come out of a seven-month retirement to resume her weekly political affairs column today, published in print and online exclusively in the Falls Church News-Press.


HELEN THOMAS, a White House correspondent for 50 years, resumes her weekly column after a seven-month haitus in this week’s News-Press. (Photo: Simon VanSteyn)

Legendary journalist and 50-year veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas has come out of a seven-month retirement to resume her weekly political affairs column today, published in print and online exclusively in the Falls Church News-Press.

Thomas’ first column back appears on Page 13 of this edition, and its subject is Social Security reform.

Now age 90, Thomas began her journalistic career in 1942 and has covered every U.S. president one a day-to-day basis as a White House correspondent since 1960. She declared her retirement abruptly on June 8, 2010 following a firestorm of criticism that arose from spontaneous taped comments she made the day before that some claimed to be anti-Semitic.

But in a statement also published in today’s edition, News-Press owner-editor Nicholas F. Benton writes that, as one who has known Ms. Thomas since 1991, “She is progressive, and following my more than eight hours of direct, one-on-one talks with her since the events of last June, I remain firmly convinced that she is neither bigoted, nor racist, nor anti-Semitic.”

He added, “I am proud that a journalist of the stature and professionalism of Helen Thomas is relaunching her career, in her ninetieth year no less, in my newspaper. She more than deserves, and I am honored to help provide her the proverbial ‘second chance.” (Benton’s full statement appears on Page 6 of this edition).

A journalist of national renown, who has published two books of memoirs of covering all the U.S. presidents since John F. Kennedy and the recipient of countless awards and honors, Thomas is no stranger to readers of the News-Press. Her syndicated column appeared every week in the News-Press beginning in January 2004, and on two occasions since visited the offices of the News-Press for public events to greet her readers and supporters.

In an exclusive interview with the News-Press in her Northwest Washington, D.C. home last week, recalled the highlights of her illustrious life.

Her parents coming from a section of Syria that became Lebanon, she was the sixth of eight children. Her parents located to a small town in Kentucky, where other relatives had come before, and her father operated a food cart before opening his own grocery store. Ms. Thomas was born on Aug. 4, 1920.

In 1924, the family moved to Detroit because the auto industry began booming there. Thomas’ father remained in the grocery business there, and she was moved when she recalled that it was her parents’ passion to see that all their children were educated.


LEGENDARY WHITE HOUSE Correspondent Helen Thomas (left) chats with News-Press owner-editor Nicholas Benton during an interview at her home Friday. (Photo: Simon VanSteyn)

As a result, all eight children attended college, and seven graduated, including her from Wayne State University. “That’s quite an accomplishment for a first-generation family in America,” she said.

Because of her interest in journalism, she came to Washington, D.C. upon her graduation from college in 1942, and got her first job as a “copy boy” at a newspaper. It was easy for a woman to find a job in those days, she said, “because every man who had a pulse was drafted into the war.”

While she and a group of colleagues were all summarily fired from that newspaper for demanding a $5 raise, it led to her seeking a new job and being hired by the United Press International (UPI) wire service, which remained her employer until 2000.

In 1960, she began covering daily press briefings in the White House, and knew personally all of the U.S. presidents since that time. She soon commanded the first row center seat in the White House press briefing room, and for televised presidential press conferences, she and her rival from the Associated Press took turns being invited to ask either the first, or second, question of the president.

Thomas resigned from UPI in 2000 when it was acquired by the Unification Church. “That was a bridge too far,” she said, when asked about the acquisition and her decision to leave.

She was then employed by the Hearst Newspapers, and while continuing to attend daily White House briefings, she shifted from filing daily news stories to writing a weekly syndicated column.

Among other things, she was known for standing alone among White House journalists with her sharp questioning of Bush administration officials about the alleged “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, prior to the invasion.

Last June 6, Thomas retired the day after she was asked to make impromptu remarks about Israel in the wake of news that Israeli commandos had boarded a ship on a humanitarian mission to Gaza and killed numerous civilians.

In his statement today, News-Press editor Benton writes of that incident, “Ms. Thomas’ comments were intemperate and inappropriate, as she conceded afterward….Her remarks in June were in response to a question about Israel, not Jews, and were intended to mean that in these times, Jewish people are free to live wherever they wish, because the era of anti-Jewish persecution is ended. That was not adequately expressed because of the impromptu nature of the incident.”

Among others, Ms. Thomas’ plight last summer drew sympathy from former President Jimmy Carter, who called her to offer his support.