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Helen Thomas, R.I.P.

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by Jon Friedman
July 20, 2013 11:39 AM
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Helen Thomas

Longtime White House journalist Helen Thomas has died at age 92 after a long illness, media outlets reported on Saturday.

Thomas covered 10 presidents for nearly half a century, and became a legend in the journalism world. 

She was a fixture at White House news conferences -- sitting front and center late in her career -- where she made a habit of  exasperating government spokesmen with her questions.

The legendary Washington, D.C., journalist Thomas was also a trailblazer for women journalists and a lightning rod of White House coverage.


Thomas started covering the White House for the United Press International wire service when John F. Kennedy became president in 1961 and was a fixture there until she retired three years ago.

She was regarded as the dean of the White House press corps because she was the longest-serving White House journalist.

Her career, however, concluded in controversy.

Thomas, then working for the media conglomerate Hearst as a syndicated columnist, was blasted for comments she made regarding Jewish people.

CNN.com noted: "In 2010, a YouTube video surfaced showing her saying that Israel should 'get the hell out of Palestine,' and that the Jewish people should go home to Poland, Germany ... and America and everywhere else.'" Read more from CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/20/us/helen-thomas-obit/

Thomas apologized for her remarks, writing, "They do not reflect my heartfelt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."

She announced her retirement the following week.

Thomas, a daughter of Lebanese immigrants, was born in Winchester, Kentucky, on August 4, 1920. She was one of nine children. Thomas grew up in Detroit, Michigan, where she attended Wayne State University and graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1942.

In October 1971, Thomas married Douglas Cornell; he died in 1982.

She wrote three books: "Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times" (1999); "Thanks for the Memories Mr. President: Wit and Wisdom from the Front Row at the White House" (2002); and "Watchdogs of Democracy? The Waning Washington Press Corps and How it Has Failed the Public" (2006).

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