Thomas, Helen A. 1920–
Thomas, Helen A. 1920–
Born August 4, 1920, in Winchester, KY; daughter of George and Mary Thomas; married Douglas B. Cornell (a journalist), October 11, 1971. Education: Wayne State University, B.A., 1942.
Home—Washington, DC. Office—National Press Building, Washington, DC 20004.
Formerly affiliated with United Press International; wire service reporter in Washington, DC, 1973-74, White House bureau chief, 1974—.
Women's National Press Club (president, 1959-60), American Newspaper Women's Club (former vice president), White House Correspondents Association (president, 1976), Sigma Delta Chi, Delta Sigma Phi (honorary member).
Named woman of the year in communications by Ladies Home Journal, 1975; L.L.D. from Eastern Michigan State University, 1972, and Ferris State College, 1978; L.H.D. from Wayne State University, 1974, and University of Detroit, 1979.
Dateline: White House, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1975.
(With Frank Cormier and James Deakin) The White House Press on the Presidency: News Management and Co-Option, edited by Kenneth W. Thompson, University Press of America (Lanham, MD), 1983.
Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times, Scribner (New York, NY), 1999.
Thanks for the Memories, Mr. President: Wit and Wisdom from the Front Row at the White House, Scribner (New York, NY), 2002.
Watchdogs of Democracy? The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public, Scribner (New York, NY), 2006.
Helen A. Thomas is one of the most widely known wire service reporters in the United States. Since 1961 she has covered the White House for United Press International, and in 1974 was named White House bureau chief. In a reporting career spanning five decades she has become a legend, noted for her lively wit, for her tough reporting, and for her position as one of the first women to break into the maledominated White House press corps. "The daughter of Lebanese immigrants," explained a Town & Country contributor, the Detroit native "dreamed of being a reporter and worked hard to realize her goal."
Some of Thomas's biggest leads and stories were provided by Martha Mitchell, the wife of President Richard Nixon's Attorney General John Mitchell. During the Watergate affair, Mitchell would often make revealing telephone calls to Thomas. "Martha loved the press. And any time she spoke out it was usually with a block-buster," Thomas told an interviewer for the Grand Rapids Press. "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."
An account of Martha Mitchell, as well as an inside look at the White House during the administrations of Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford, is contained in Thomas's Dateline: White House. Godfrey Sperling, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, found the book to be filled with "behind-the scenes nuggets and acute observations." Richard Reeves, writing in the New York Times Book Review, was equally admiring. He noted that Dateline contains "fascinating material on the Johnsons, a touching portrait of Pat Nixon and an interesting portrait of a very tough and very feminine woman named Helen Thomas succeeding in the male world of journalism. More than that, in total, ‘Dateline: White House’ is a valuable firsthand report on how reporting itself actually works."
Thomas continues the story of her career in Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times, and Thanks for the Memories, Mr. President: Wit and Wisdom from the Front Row at the White House. "Thomas, known for tough questions and pungent observations," wrote Mary Carroll in Booklist, "has covered every president since Kennedy." Her memoirs are littered with stories about the men and women who have occupied the White House during the last forty-plus years. "Kennedy and Reagan were the best at using jocularity to defuse the acrimony often spawned by their policies," explained a Kirkus Reviews critic writing about Thanks for the Memories, Mr. President, while both Geroge Bushes "inspired as much unintentional as intentional humor" on account of their poor communication skills. Front Row at the White House, concluded a Publishers Weekly reviewer, is "a sharp chronicle of the nation's recent history—and of the crusade of women reporters to be considered the equal or better of their male counterparts."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Biography News, Thomson Gale (Farmington Hills, MI), January-February, 1975.
Thomas, Helen A., Dateline: White House, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1975.
Thomas, Helen A., Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times, Scribner (New York, NY), 1999.
Booklist, March 15, 1999, Mary Carroll, review of Front Row at the White House, p. 1259.
Christian Science Monitor, December 30, 1975, Godfrey Sperling, review of Dateline: White House, p. 18.
Grand Rapids Press, November 1, 1974, author interview.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2002, review of Thanks for the Memories, Mr. President: Wit and Wisdom from the Front Row at the White House, p. 321.
New York Times Book Review, November 30, 1975, Richard Reeves, review of Dateline: White House, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, April 26, 1999, review of Front Row at the White House, p. 62; April 8, 2002, review of Thanks for the Memories, Mr. President, p. 215.
Town & Country, May, 1999, "First Lady of the Press," p. 70.