March 1 ~  Tough Question Front Row at the White House

"I don't think a tough question is disrespectful. I say, 'Mr. President.' I say, 'Thank You.' What else do you want?" ~ Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas

The tough cookie with the tough question, political journalist Helen Thomas (1920-2013) was born in Winchester, Kentucky and grew up in Detroit. One of nine children, she was the daughter of Lebanese immigrants who could not read or write English.

She fell in love with journalism in high school, graduated with a degree from Wayne State University, and joined the Washington Daily News as a $17.50 a week copy girl.

"When you're in the news business, you always expect the unexpected," said the feisty woman who is relentless and respected

In 1943, she became a United Press International (UPI) wire service writer, a pioneering reporter. In 1960, she covered President-elect John Kennedy, her foot in the door to the White House. She's been there, front and center, ever since. Witness. Watchdog. Historian.

"Kennedy and Johnson were masters at storytelling. Kennedy on one-liners, and Johnson on wonderful stories that made you laugh in the end," revealed the first woman to be White House bureau chief.

In 1972, Thomas was the only print journalist to travel with Richard Nixon to China. About his Watergate downfall, she said, "There was no way he could save himself. It was like a Greek tragedy."

She has high regard for the First Ladies of the eight Presidents she has covered. "They are obviously very, very strong mentors and counselors for their husbands...They're the court of last resort."

About her career in journalism, she said, "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."

JournlistsAsk nicely.