Helen Thomas, President Lyndon Johnson and his grandson, Patrick Lyndon Nugent in the Oval Office, 1968. [LBJ Library photo #A6466-27A by Yoichi Okamoto]

Helen Thomas, pioneering White House reporter, dies at 92

Jul 20, 2013

by Laurence Arnold
[posted on bloomberg.com July 20, 2013]

Helen Thomas, the pioneering female journalist who questioned 10 U.S. presidents from her front-row seat at White House press conferences, has died. She was 92.

The Gridiron Club, of which Thomas was a member, said she died today at her apartment in Washington, where she lived for more than six decades. No cause of death was given, though the club said she had been ill for a long time.

As White House correspondent for United Press International, where she worked for 57 years, then as a columnist for Hearst Newspapers, Thomas covered presidents from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama as they confronted the Cuban Missile Crisis, wars in Vietnam and Iraq, the Watergate scandal, oil shortages, the nuclear arms race and economic crises.

She was the first woman elected president of the White House Correspondents Association and the first female to join the Gridiron Club, a fraternity for inside-the-Beltway journalists. She was also the first woman to cover the presidency, the correspondents group said.

President Lyndon Johnson’s tense relationship with the press included what came to be known as “walkie-talkie” press conferences, during which reporters would fall over each other trailing the president and his dogs on brisk walks around the South Lawn.

“Often he spoke in a whisper to bedevil us for questioning him,” Thomas recalled. She kept flat shoes at her desk as a way to compete with her male competitors during such events. read more