“He Is The Worst President In All Of American History”
As veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas signed my program Thursday evening at the Society of Professional Journalists annual awards banquet, I said, First time I ever asked a reporter for an autograph.
Thank you, dear, she said, patting my arm. Dont lose heart.
Those are words that should be engraved at the bottom of every journalism degree. Thats because Im not sure that any business can cause a heart to be lost or broken faster than this. And Thomas probably knows this better than anyone because she began reporting in 1943.
Thomas, in case youve never seen a presidential news conference, is the woman who has haunted every U.S. president since JFK.
I cant, in fact, recall a news conference where she wasnt standing hawk-like, grilling men who clearly didnt want to be grilled by anyone, especially a woman.
Thomas, by the way, is the woman who said, Thank you, Mr. President, at the end of her very first press conference in 1961.
That, I think, is a wonderful tradition that continues to this very day. It shows a little respect to make up for the kind of lack of respect we used to hear from shouters such as Sam Donaldson, the man Ronald Reagan could never quite hear.
I attended this Biltmore Hotel banquet for two reasons Thomas and Jean Adelsman. Jean is the retired managing editor of the Breeze and the recipient Thursday evening of a Journalist of the Year award, along with Judy Muller of ABC News, Kitty Felde of KPCCs Talk of the City, Sue Manning of The Associated Press and USC law professor Erwin Chemerinsky.
Odd how the world breathlessly awaits the Golden Globes while honors presented the people who watch the politicians or work for a cancer cure are as obscure as lice. In fact, theres a joke about the Golden Globes and the foreign press that presents them. Its said that on ceremony night you cant find a waiter anywhere in town. Take this from someone who once sat at another banquet with the foreign press a group composed of a dry cleaner from Pacoima, a large Eastern European woman in a turban and an Egyptian shoe salesman who spent the evening trying to cadge free drinks. Now that I think of it, they arent much different from domestic journalists.
Except when it comes to Thomas, who to the 100 or so people in that room is the very essence of celebrity, a woman who dedicated 60 years at United Press International and Hearst to afflicting the elected.
Keep in mind that Thomas came up in the bad old days. Unlike Thursday night, when four of five honorees were women, she spent decades proving herself to the male hierarchy.
As late as 1972 she was the only woman on the Nixon China trip. Still, she survives in a Washington press corps that she says has gone soft, accepting presidential spin without question.
There was a lot of that in her speech, this talk of devaluation in the character of leadership. Not surprisingly for an admitted liberal, she held her greatest praise for John Kennedy, the only president in her estimation who made Americans look to their higher angels.
Then came Johnsons Great Society and Vietnam. Nixon, she said, was a man who would when presented two roads always choose the wrong one. He was followed by healing Ford, well-meaning Carter, Reagans revolution, Bush Sr.s self-destruction and Clintons damaging of the presidential myth.
She seemed to have sympathy and affection for everyone but George W. Bush, a man who she said is rising on a wave of 9-11 fear fear of looking unpatriotic, fear of asking questions, just fear. We have, she said, lost our way.
Thomas believes we have chosen to promote democracy with bombs instead of largess while Congress defaults, Democrats cower and a president controls all three branches of government in the name of corporations and the religious right.
As she signed my program, I joked, You sound worried.
This is the worst president ever, she said. He is the worst president in all of American history.
The woman who has known eight of them wasnt joking.
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