White House reporter Helen Thomas profiled on HBO

Thu Aug 14, 2008 3:39pm EDT
 
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As a tireless questioner of authority and a consummate Washington insider, pioneering White House correspondent Helen Thomas has covered nine U.S. presidents over a span of nearly a half century.

Next week on cable network HBO, Thomas, 88, makes a rare appearance as an interview subject in a documentary produced and directed by filmmaker Rory Kennedy, whose uncle "Jack" was the first Oval Office occupant Thomas followed as a reporter.

The 38-minute profile, "Thank You, Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House," features the journalist reflecting on her life, career, and devotion to the ideal that democracy thrives best when a vigilant press holds leaders accountable.

"I think that presidents deserve to be questioned, maybe irreverently, most of the time, (to) bring 'em down a size," the plain-spoken Thomas says of the particular role of the White House press corps.

On the other hand, she adds, "Access to a president doesn't mean you're gonna get the truth."

It's a simple but astute observation from a reporter who walked the line between West Wing insider -- hobnobbing with presidents, their families and aides -- and watchdog.

In one of her more colorful anecdotes, Thomas recounted how she forged ahead in posing a tough question to President Richard Nixon about the Watergate scandal moments after he had publicly congratulated her on being named the first female head of the White House bureau for United Press International.

But Thomas is quick to say that she and her colleagues were not always as alert as they should have been.   Continued...

 
<p>U.S. President George W. Bush (R) greets veteran reporter Helen Thomas (L) during a surprise visit to the last-ever briefing from the press briefing room of the White House in Washington, August 2, 2006. As a tireless questioner of authority and a consummate Washington insider, pioneering White House correspondent Thomas has covered nine U.S. presidents over a span of nearly a half century. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst</p>