Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Helen Thomas knew when she was in high school that she wanted to be a journalist, so she went to college at Wayne State University in Detroit, graduating in 1942, and went immediately to Washington, D.C., as if her fate had called her there. Actually, in retrospect, it had.
During the first fifteen years or so, she went from writing "women's news" to interviewing Washington celebrities and on to covering an increasingly broad spectrum of interests. Then, in 1959, Thomas became the President of the Women's National Press Club and she rabble-roused a few of her colleagues into demanding that they be allowed to be present at a speech by then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. It wouldn't have been such a big deal, but the speech was to be delivered at the National Press Club, which banned women. When the dust settled, needless to say, Thomas and her in-your-face sister reporters were in the room.
Thomas' in-your-faced-ness soon got her appointed White House Correspondent for United Press International and then subsequently made UPI's White House Bureau Chief, a post she held for twenty-five years. Called "the Sitting Buddha" and "the First Lady of the Press," Thomas sat in the front row at Presidential briefings from Eisenhower to Obama, asking the first question and closing the proceedings with her signature, "Thank you, Mr. President." Until she upset the wrong folks, of course (something in-your-face women tend to do).
It all started when Thomas retired from UPI and became an opinion columnist for the Hearst Newspaper group. "I censored myself for 50 years when I was a reporter," she said at the time, "Now, I wake up and ask myself, 'Who do I hate today?'" In short order, in no uncertain terms, Thomas was making public her frustration over the occupation of Palestine by Israel. And it was downhill from there.
Attacked from all directions by those in power who disagreed with her perspective, Thomas rapidly lost much of her support, many of her honored positions, and even some of her accolades. But, though she did apologize for upsetting people, this in-your-face woman still would not disavow her views.
Called "outspoken, blunt, demanding, forceful and unrelenting" by the Christian Science Monitor in 2008, Thomas, like most in-your-face women, has now been rejected by most of the mainstream in the United States, though it's always interesting to note that folks only have a problem with in-your-face women when they oppose the popular view. Nevertheless, in-your-face is in-your-face. Something Fidel Castro understood when he said that the difference between democracy in America and democracy in Cuba was that "I don't have to answer questions from Helen Thomas." Something few would ever want to have to do.