Back In The Day, Helen Thomas really lit me up on the Today show. That little moment was in 1993, right after Bill Clinton’s first presidential news conference, and the two of us were doing a standup segment from the White House. Even then, Helen was the dean of the White House press corps, and I was the new guy from the president’s home town newspaper.
It had taken Clinton a couple of months to get around to having a presser, and when I was asked why it had taken him so long, I opined that the public probably didn’t care that much. Helen immediately pounced in Full Annoyed Mode, saying it was ALWAYS important for presidents to have news conferences and that reporters should ALWAYS push for more of them. You could hear the scorn in her voice; she might as well have just said ‘tut-tut!’ out loud.
I should have expected that. By then, I’d seen Helen in action for some time. She was double-tough and had an open contempt for the various smoothies and mountebanks who tried to “control the message” for Clinton. And let’s be honest: Journalists loved her for that.
But that was 17 years ago and even then, Helen was well past the age when most folks retire. And when you think about the unbelievably boneheaded and offensive thing she said last week, a comment that deservedly ended her career, try to keep in mind that she’s 89 now. One stupid ramble from an old lady shouldn’t undo 50 years of honorable work.
I think Dana Milbank gets it right in today’s Post: “Now that Helen is gone, there’s more need than ever for others in the briefing room to share her opinion — specifically, the opinion that anybody standing on that podium should be regarded with skepticism.” Helen couldn’t have said it better herself.