Front Row at the White House

By Fischer, Raymond L. | USA TODAY, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Front Row at the White House


Fischer, Raymond L., USA TODAY


FRONT ROW AT THE WHITE HOUSE

BY HELEN THOMAS SCRIBNER PUBLISHING 1999, 425 PAGES, $26.00

Helen Thomas, the woman who asks tough questions of presidents and other political figures, has been on the job for United Press International (United Press and International News Service merged in 1958) for 55 "great" years. She dedicates the book to, among others, the many UPI reporters and editors who have loved the business as much as she has.

Thomas has received more than 20 honorary degrees and awards for outstanding journalism. In 1998, the White House Correspondents Association made her the first recipient of the award it had established in her name--the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award. One of the pioneers who broke the barriers against women in the national media, Thomas was the first female president of the White House Correspondents Association, the first female officer of the National Press Club, and the first woman member--and later president--of the Gridiron Club.

The feisty Thomas draws on her experiences in covering the John F. Kennedy through Bill Clinton years. Denied the opportunity to editorialize in her UPI position, she obviously wrote this book as a venue to indulge in presenting her opinions about presidential administrations, reporting, and management of the news. She recounts her impressions of what she saw, heard, and felt throughout eight administrations, and her behind-the-scenes stories and anecdotes concerning reporters, presidents, and personalities enlighten and entertain.

Known for asking pointed, multiparted, and sometimes embarrassing questions, the author justifies her technique, maintaining that queries which disarm presidents reflect the concerns of every American. Too many presidents renege on responsibility and accountability to the average individual and the nation. Thomas makes clear her awe of the presidency, but not presidents.

Thomas wanted to be a reporter from the time she worked on her Detroit high school newspaper. After her 1942 graduation from college, she went to Washington as a copy girl for the Washington Daily News. She chose life as a reporter for its excitement, the daily rush in the search for the whys and wherefores. She knew the job required dedication and lacked glamour, but her irresistible desire to be on the spot when a major historic event occurs and her insatiable curiosity about life and people charged her momentum for the job. …

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