Helen Thomas, the backbone of the White House Press Corps, is part of a dying breed: a journalist who is simply that — not a shill for a point of view or a cheerleader for a political party. There are almost no journalists left, only pundits.
The Progressive features a terrific interview with Thomas in the August edition.
Thomas no longer sits in the front row during Presidential news conferences, a privilege traditionally reserved for wire service reporters. When I caught up with her in Washington, D.C., in April, I asked her if she missed asking the first question. “No. I just want the questions to be asked,” Thomas replied. “It doesn’t matter whether I ask them. No leader should get off the hook when they take people to war.”
… Q: Why do Bush’s press conferences sound so scripted?
Thomas: Bush has a seating chart and he knows who he is going to call on. He picks the people. He’s been told to not call on me because I am going to ask a very tough question, such as, Why are we there? Why are we killing people in their own country? How can we? On what basis? I mean, if you want to go after terrorists, good. But Iraq had nothing to do with it.
Q: This President has not had many press conferences. Do you think the Bush Administration values the opportunity to talk with the press?
Thomas: Hell, no. He’s forced to. It’s absolutely necessary because we are there in their face. But he doesn’t hold enough news conferences. It’s far short of anybody else. And when he appears with a head of state and they try to act like it’s a news conference, it’s not. He says, “I’ll take two questions here and two questions on that side,” and there’s no follow-up. He gets mad if it is a two-part question. I mean, c’mon. The President of the United States should be able to answer any question, or at least dance around one. At some time–early and often–he should submit to questioning and be held accountable, because if you don’t have that then you only have one side of the story. The Presidential news conference is the only forum in our society, the only institution, where a President can be questioned. If a leader is not questioned, he can rule by edict or executive order. He can be a king or a dictator. Who’s to challenge him? We’re there to pull his chain and to ask the questions that should be asked every day, for every move.
Q: Has President Bush given you a nickname?
Thomas: I’m sure it’s profane, but I don’t know what it is. I don’t blame him for not liking me; I ask very tough questions. He doesn’t have to like me. I would prefer that he respect me. We don’t have to be liked. We didn’t go into this business to be liked or loved. If we did, we’re making a big mistake. It’s not the point. You cannot have a democracy without an informed people.
… Q: Even after 9/11, when the press was really tame, there were still charges by some people in the press that there was a liberal media. Do you agree?
Thomas: I’m dying to find another friend. I am a liberal. I was a liberal the day I was born, and I will be until the day I die. What’s a liberal? I care about the poor, the sick, and the maimed. I care whether we go to war for unjust causes. I care whether we shoot people who are innocent. There’s no such thing as a liberal media. I think we have a very conservative press. Read the columnists. They are predominantly conservative. I don’t relate to them at all. I’m looking for another liberal.