Helen Thomas, the irrepressible White House correspondent who used her seat in the front row of history to grill 10 Presidents — often to their discomfort — died here on Saturday. She was 92.
She was persistent to the point of badgering. One White House press secretary described her questioning as “torture” and he was one of her fans.
In 2010, that tendency finally ended a career which had started in 1943 and made her one of the best known journalists.
On a videotape circulated on the Internet, Ms. Thomas, whose parents were Lebanese immigrants, said Israelis should “get out of Palestine” and “go home” to Germany, Poland or the U.S. The remark brought down widespread condemnation and she ended her career.
She was at the forefront of women’s achievements in journalismand one of the first women reporters to break out of the White House “women’s beat” — the soft stories about Presidents’ kids, wives, their teas and their hairdos — and cover the hard news on an equal footing with men.
She had to fight for admission into the 1959 luncheon speech where Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev warned: “We will bury you.”
The belligerent Khrushchev was an unlikely ally in one sense.
He had refused to speak at any venue that excluded women, she said.
JFK’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, complained that he learned of his daughter Luci’s engagement from Ms. Thomas’s story.
A self-described liberal, Ms. Thomas made no secret of her ill feelings for the final President she covered — the second President Bush. “He is the worst president in all of American history,” she told the Daily Breeze of Torrance, California.
She also was critical of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, asserting that the deaths of innocent people should hang heavily on Mr. Bush’s conscience.
“We are involved in a war that is becoming more dubious every day,” she said in a speech to thousands of students at Brigham Young University in September 2003. “I thought it was wrong to invade a country without any provocation.”
In March 2005, she confronted Mr. Bush with the proposition that “your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis” and every justification for the attack proved false.
“Why did you really want to go to war?” she demanded. When Bush began explaining his rationale, she interjected: “They didn’t do anything to you, or to our country.”
“Excuse me for a second,” Mr. Bush replied. “They did. The Taliban provided safe haven for al-Qaeda. That’s where al-Qaeda trained.” “I’m talking about Iraq,” she said.