Helen Thomas (August 4, 1920 - July 20, 2013) was a reporter who retired in 2010 after many years in front row center at White House press conferences, was the first female member of the White House Correspondents Association and the first woman to serve as that organization's president. She was among the first female members of the National Press Club admitted in 1971.
Her parents were Lebanese immigrants, and Helen Thomas graduated in 1942 from Wayne University (now Wayne State University) in Detroit. Her first job was with the Scripps-Howard Washington Daily News. She married fellow reporter Douglas B. Cornell in 1971. She retired from her position with UPI as Washington Bureau Chief in 2000, and began writing a twice-a-week column for Hearst News Service, which she continued until June, 2010, following revelations of a quote about Jews in Israel.
Selected Helen Thomas Quotations
• I think I'll work all my life. When you're having fun, why stop having fun?
• There are better ways we can transform this virulent hatred -- by living our ideals, the Peace Corps, exchange students, teachers, exporting our music, poetry, blue jeans.
• I’m a liberal, I was born a liberal, and I will be a liberal till the day I die.
• We won`t really know what will happen until it happens.
About Reporting and Writing
• Printer's ink was in my veins, I decided, and I became dedicated to the proposition that this was the life for me
• I was so lucky to pick a profession where it's a joy to go to work every day.
• We in the press have a special role since there is no other institution in our society that can hold the President accountable. I do believe that our democracy can endure and prevail only if the American people are informed.
• I don't think a tough question is disrespectful.
• People will never know how hard it is to get information, especially if it's locked up behind official doors where, if politicians had their way, they'd stamp TOP SECRET on the color of the walls.
• [About her first reporting work -- with her high school newspaper:] A teacher praised my work, and I liked the bylines!
• [About starting to cover the president for UPI:] I found it very hard when I was trying to express some opinions. I thought, "Oh my God, they're going to fire me."
• When you're in the news business, you always expect the unexpected.
• I suppose that's democracy really. But everybody with a laptop thinks they're a journalist these days. That's a problem.
• Reporters see so much more than anyone else, really, if they open their eyes. It's their job to take a very human approach. I don't see how you can see what's all around you and not be liberal. You see the poor. You see the hungry. You see the suffering.
• [about retirement from UPI in 2000:] I just want the questions to be asked. It doesn't matter whether I ask them. No leader should get off the hook when they take people to war.
• [In 2004, about the post 9/11 press:] I think they are coming out of their coma. They finally are realizing they've been had. They finally realized that we went into a war based on false pretenses. And we were very much a part of that. We were the transmission belt for all of the spin and the alleged threats.
• We were raised not only to do something with our lives but be somebody, even us girls, uncommon as that thinking was in those days.
• We got the vote, which we should've been born with, in 1920. Everything we've had to struggle for -- it's ridiculous.
• [About Martha Mitchell, wife of President Nixon's Attorney General John Mitchell and key Watergate figure:] Martha loved the press. And any time she spoke out it was usually with a block-buster. Martha could never give you one, two, three, in sequence, but if you pieced the facts together you found them valid. Listen to the White House tapes and you'll find the proof.
• [About First Lady Betty Ford:] Many Republicans feared Betty's seeming liberalism and thought it might hurt the president and the party. But President Ford never panicked or interfered. He handled things well. He matched his wife's courage. I thought he was a real man to her real woman.
• [About First Lady Hillary Clinton:] The first lady is going to have to come to terms with the press if she really wants to make a run for a post.
On Presidents and the White House Beat
• [Reporters] are not there to curry presidential favor, nor can we respond to efforts at presidential intimidation. Our priority is the peoples' right to know -- without fear or favor. We are the peoples' servants.
• When it comes to the Presidential news conference, I have never lost my sense of awe that I am able to quiz a President of the United States -- politely I hope, but if necessary to hold his feet to the fire.
• Thank you Mister President. [Closing words, traditionally, for a White House press conference, and for many years until 2003 under President George W. Bush when the administration changed the practice, reserved for Helen Thomas to utter.]
• The White House used to belong to the American people. At least that’s what I learned from history books and from covering every president starting with John F. Kennedy. But now the 201-year-old Executive Mansion belongs only to a select, elitist group of people, including top government officials, members of Congress and the press corps. They and some others, all of whom are screened in advance, are welcome. But most people are not -— not anymore.
• It's the arrogance of power. "We're in charge. It's our White House. What the hell are you doing here?" Basically toward the Press. "How dare you question anything we do?" They don't understand that the presidential news conference is the only forum in our society where a president can be questioned. If he's not questioned, he can rule by edict; by government order. He can be a monarch. He can be a dictator, and who is to find out? No. He should be questioned and he should always be able to willingly reply and answer to all questions because these aren't our questions. They're the people's questions.
• All presidents rail against the press. It goes with the turf.
• Every President hates the Press.
• Every president thinks that all information that comes to the White House is their private preserve after they all promise an open administration on the campaign trail, but some are more secretive than others. Some want to lock down everything.
• I covered two presidents, LBJ and Nixon, who could no longer convince, persuade, or govern, once people had decided they had no credibility, but we seem to be more tolerant now of what I think we should not tolerate.
• There was no way he could save himself. It was like a Greek tragedy.
• All of us who covered the Reagans agreed that President Reagan was personable and charming. But I'm not so certain he was nice.
• [About George W. Bush:] I'm covering the worst president in American history.
• This is the worst President ever. He [George W. Bush] is the worst President in all of American history.
• The day Dick Cheney is going to run for president, I'll kill myself. All we need is another liar... I think he'd like to run, but it would be a sad day for the country if he does.
• It should be mandatory that every president would read the Constitution. Too many swear to uphold the Constitution and then make end runs around it.
• This administration in particular has chipped away at the Bill of Rights while the people were numbed by the trauma of 9/11, and we let them get away with it. Not only the people at large but the Congress has been willing to abridge our rights through the PATRIOT Act, a terrific infringement of our privacy.
About War and Peace
• But when will our leaders learn - war is not the answer.
• If we care about the children, the grandchildren, the future generations, we need to make sure that they do not become the cannon fodder of the future.
• I told the young leaders that the 21st Century is theirs and they should not blow it. Try to reject war and give peace a chance. Question the powers that be and find out why they make the dubious decisions they do that send young people to war.
• It's time for women to make their voices heard. Their silence on the subject of war and peace is deafening.
• You don't spread democracy through the barrel of a gun.
• To start a new century with a war, what can young people think?
• [About George W. Bush:] We have a president who was determined to go to war against Iraq, but who to this day cannot explain why.
• [A press conference question, January 6, 2003:] At the earlier briefing, Ari, you said that the President deplored the taking of innocent lives. Does that apply to all innocent lives in the world? And I have a follow-up... My follow-up is, why does he want to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis?
About Marriage at 51
• Who ever plans on falling in love? I certainly didn't have a two-track mind back then when I first started covering the White House. I didn't think it was possible to do the kind of work I loved to do and still be a wife.... How wrong -- and how lucky -- I was.
• [in 2007, when former President Jimmy Carter published his book on Palestine:] I think Carter's very brave to go up against a lot of opposition. I don't know if it's going to open up a debate, but I do think the American people ought to know that there is a Palestinian side of the question also, and that has never been really exposed.
• [Talking about Israelis:] Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine. Remember, these people are occupied, and it's their land. [after being asked where their home was:] Poland, Germany… and America and everywhere else. [Career-ending quote, May 27, 2010]
• [Response to outcry about previous statement:] I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.
From Others About Helen Thomas
• First lady of the press. [Dorothy Thompson was called "first lady of American journalism.]
• [Mark Knoller, CBS correspondent:] She asked questions no hard-news reporter would ask, that carried an agenda and reflected her point of view, and there were some reporters who felt that was inappropriate. As a columnist she felt totally unbound from any of the normal policies of objectivity that every other reporter in the room felt compelled to abide by, and sometimes her questions were embarrassing to other reporters.
• [CBS journalist Sam Donaldson:] Presidents come and go, but the telephone operators stay forever.... In 12 years at the White House I'm certain I never met a lot of the people Helen used as her sources.
• [Richard M. Nixon, according to Helen Thomas' memoirs:] You always ask tough questions, tough questions not in the sense of being unfair, but hard to generalize the answers."
• [Ann Coulter:] Press passes can't be that hard to come by if the White House allows that old Arab Helen Thomas to sit within yards of the President.
• [Castro, when asked an argumentative question by a reporter from USA Today:] I don't have to answer questions from Helen Thomas.
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About These Quotes
Quote collection assembled by Jone Johnson Lewis. Each quotation page in this collection and the entire collection © Jone Johnson Lewis 1997-2010. This is an informal collection assembled over many years. I regret that I am not be able to provide the original source if it is not listed with the quote.
Jone Johnson Lewis. "Helen Thomas Quotes." About Women's History. URL: http://womenshistory.about.com/od/quotes/a/Helen-Thomas-qu.htm . Date accessed: (today). (More on how to cite online sources including this page)