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Jan 14 / Elizabeth DiNovella

Helen Thomas’s First Question for President Obama

Reporter Helen Thomas did not get a chance to ask President Bush a question at his last press conference. But luckily Amy Goodman of Democracy Now sat down with Thomas. (Click here to read.)

As a White House correspondent for the United Press International, Thomas began covering the Kennedy White House. She was not assigned to the beat—she just started showing up.

Next week she will start covering the Obama Administration as a columnist. She recently penned a column about Bush’s Presidency entitled, “History Cannot Save Him.”

“As he leaves office, President Bush is passing on to his successor two wars and a growing economic debacle. What a way to go!” she writes. “Because of Bush’s policies, the U.S. also is complicit in the Israeli attack on the Palestinians on the Gaza Strip by providing a ‘made-in-America’ high-tech arsenal for the assault and blocking a ceasefire for nearly two weeks, a move intended to help the Israelis consolidate their hold.”

What I most appreciate about Helen Thomas is her courage and her outrage. I interviewed her in 2004 and she was kind and gracious in person, but had a thick skin when it came to criticism. She was unapologetically a liberal, before it was cool again.

Here’s an excerpt of my August 2004 interview:
Q: Even after 9/11, when the press was really tame, there were still charges by some people in the press that there was a liberal media. Do you agree?

Thomas: I’m dying to find another friend. I am a liberal. I was a liberal the day I was born, and I will be until the day I die. What’s a liberal? I care about the poor, the sick, and the maimed. I care whether we go to war for unjust causes. I care whether we shoot people who are innocent. There’s no such thing as a liberal media. I think we have a very conservative press. Read the columnists. They are predominantly conservative. I don’t relate to them at all. I’m looking for another liberal.

Q: But there was a time when there were more liberal voices.

Thomas: There were more. But the press has moved with the country to the right. There was a Ronald Reagan revolution. There were many more liberals in the Great Depression, World War II. They had heart and soul and compassion. 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.

In Democracy Now’s interview with her, Amy Goodman notes that former White House Scott McClellan spoke about Thomas’s role in the White House Press corps.

Scott McClellan: “Well, first of all, I think we need more Helen Thomases in the press corps, both the national press corps, even in the White House press corps, as well. She is someone who is not afraid to ask the tough questions and hold people accountable for the decisions that are made. So I think that’s important to state right up front.”

Goodman asked Thomas if she has her first question ready for Barack Obama.
“Sure. I have a thousand of them,” Thomas responded. “What are you going to do to fulfill your ideals expressed on the campaign trail? Or are you going to submit, like most presidents, just . . . try to carry out your promises that have no meaning except for how many people gave you money?”

Yes, we need more Helen Thomases in the press corps.

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