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Texas State University
Texas State University

Helen Thomas

White House UPI Bureau Chief
Thursday, April 11, 1996

As a reporter, Helen Thomas covered Lyndon Johnson, and at the time of this speech she had covered every president since John Kennedy. She has been a keen observer of Washington politics since the early '40s, when she arrived in town — fresh out of college — as a copy writer for the Washington Daily News.

In 1943, she joined United Press International, writing radio news about Capitol Hill, the Justice Department and the FBI. In 1960 she be­gan covering John Kennedy while he was still president-elect.

She watched and analyzed presidents and the office of the presi­dency itself through the administrations of John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and Bill Clinton. She traveled with them, peppered them with difficult questions and gained their respect.

She covered their press conferences. In that capacity, Helen Tho­mas may have been the most powerful reporter in Washington because it was her trademark "Thank you, Mr. President" that cut off not only the report­ers' questions but also the president's answers.

In her long tenure, she blazed trails for professional women, becoming the first female officer of the National Press Club and the White House Correspondents Association and the first female member of the venerable Old Gridiron Club. She has been honored for her talents and her contributions to the journalism profession with a long list of presti­gious awards.

She was generous in sharing her reflections and her expertise with au­diences around the country and through her book, Dateline White House. We feel particularly honored that she has agreed to share those reflec­tions with us for this LBJ Distinguished Lecture. Lyndon Johnson would be proud. 

—Adapted from the introduction read at Helen Thomas' LBJ Distinguished Lecture

 

“But compassion seems to have gone out of style. Today it’s every man for himself, survival of the fittest, especially from those who want to complete the Reagan Revolution, the conservative philosophy that if you can’t make it, tough. Somewhere along the way to the forum, we lost our sense of unity, one nation indivisible. The federal government today is viewed as the enemy, an alien intruder, rather than what it really is: we the people.”

“But enough on these philosophical musings. I’m sure you want to know what’s going on in Washington today. Nothing!”

“But, as you can see, I don’t waste my sympathy on presidents because I think they have the greatest honor that can come to anyone, and that is the trust of the American people. The next president will be in a historic position of leading our nation into the 21st century and in keeping this country in its unique role of world leadership.”

“We in the press know that we are not loved. To be respected might be asking too much of those who want to kill the messenger who brings the bad news. But we believe in following the truth wherever it leads us. Our mission is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”