She was a pioneer, "barrier-busting" journalist, covering 10 presidents in her long career with United Press International, and was feared and admired by politicians and press alike, because she would always ask the tough questions many in the sheepish herd of the Washington Press Corps wouldn't. She always sat in the front row, usually in a red suit, and after a few years, always got to ask the first question at press conferences.
But she didn't rely on press conferences to do her work, and was an excellent reporter. She was also tiny, and was questioned in later years because she spoke her mind. One such instance was a speech where she supposedly made anti-Semitic statements, though I think it was just her speaking her mind by saying unflattering things about Israel that people didn't want to hear. She was Lebanese, which to me raises her stature, because all of the Lebanese I've known are wonderful people--journalists and students alike, including Oklahoma's late Anthony Shadid (who also spoke at UCO), his cousin Ed now running for Oklahoma City mayor, and Edmond's Ray Hibbard of Edmond Life and Leisure.
I admire her most for being the tough questioner, for being so objective and even-handed in grilling all politicians without bias, for searching for the truth without an agenda. Alas, like UPI and now her, much of that is missing from today's so called journalism at Foxfart and MSNBC and elsewhere on cable and the Internet, which have agendas that make them seem to be no more than mouthpieces for political viewpoints, where "fair and balanced" is anything but ironic hypocrisy, not in depth news.
Her passing is a metaphor for the state of journalism in this country.I got to meet her when she came to UCO to speak in 1999, both in a reception in Edmond, and at the speech, and she signed this photo for me. The next morning, I had a flight somewhere early, and there she was at the airport, by herself, at 6 a.m., waiting on a plane, at age 78 or 79.
Thank you Helen, America needs many more of you, but you are the end of an era.
Helen Thomas obituary