WATCH ANY PRESIDENTIAL NEWSCAST, and UPI's Helen Thomas generally asks the first question. But there's one slight problem. Though Thomas spent more than 50 years as a UPI correspondent, she no longer works for the wire service. And even though she's earned the respect of colleagues as well as presidents with her dogged questions, she now works for the Houston Chronicle as a columnist. This makes her an opinion giver, not a news gatherer and reporter.
She not only no longer serves as a reporter, but her columns and statements expose her as a President-Clinton-loving, welfare-state-supporting leftist. On Oct. 9, 2001, before the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives, Helen Thomas introduced former President Bill Clinton at a gathering of worshipful supporters. Shedding any doubt of where her politics lie, Thomas gushed, "He is the man from Hope, and that is what he has given us, hope ... He [has] also brought unprecedented prosperity to our nation, and because of that, President [Bush] can use the surplus Mr. Clinton left behind to pay for many of the nation's needs in this time of crisis." And to tie it up in a nice big bow, Thomas ended the coronation with, "We miss him."
Former President Clinton then joked, "When I was told Helen Thomas was going to introduce me, I said, 'God, I hope she doesn't get to ask a question.' I thought her questions to me were term-limited. You know, when Helen left the UPI, some reporters wrote that she had given up her front row seat at the White House Press Conferences, but it turned out not to be so. In a town where power is supposed to be vested in the office and not the individual, she is the exception to the rule – the only person powerful enough to quit her job and still keep her seat, and I am profoundly honored to be with her tonight. America is a better place today because of the 50-plus years she has given to the noble work of journalism."
So Thomas credits Clinton with the economic boom of the '90s, completely neglecting the role played by Republicans. Remember Clinton's $31 billion stimulus package, touted as necessary for an economic recovery? Congress defeated it, yet the economy boomed. Remember Hillary's attempt to grab one-seventh of the nation's economy via HillaryCare, a horrendous intrusion of government that threatened economic disaster? Congress stopped it. Clinton signed the immensely successful Welfare Reform Act of 1996 with more Republican support than Democratic, with party members calling it immoral and predicting starvation and death for the nation's poor. And, yes, Clinton signed NAFTA and GATT, but again receiving more Republican support than Democratic.
Thomas ignores this, crediting Clinton with the economy as a rooster credits himself with the sunrise. Fair enough, lots of people feel this way – that's what makes them Democrats. But this places Thomas firmly on the idea-giving side of the aisle, not on the news or reporting side.
In a recent column, Thomas defended "Taliban John" Walker as a simple, misguided youth deserving of a break. Thomas urged Bush to show leniency toward Walker, snidely reminding the president that he positioned himself as a "compassionate conservative." Again, the column reveals her as an advocate for leniency for Walker, a position not shared by most Americans, but more importantly inconsistent with the press corps' job – that of serving as objective questioners of matters of national interest. Sorry, despite Thomas' entertaining and feisty questions, she no longer qualifies to continue sitting there!
Why does she retain her position as a member of the White House correspondents' corps, retaining the privilege to ask the president a question? Could a male reporter retire, show up to work the following Monday, while retaining the same perks, powers and privileges?
Arguably, Thomas gets kid gloves because of her advanced age. Yet aging Senators Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms consistently serve as fodder for late-night comedians' "growing old" jokes. But Helen Thomas gets a no-fly zone.
Why not grant Clinton aide-turned-critic columnist/Fox TV analyst Dick Morris a ringside seat near the presidential podium? Why not, during the Clinton years, assign a front-row seat to columnist George F. Will, who once suggested Clinton was a rapist, and pronounced him the country's "worst" president ever?
In dismissing the charge of a leftist media bias, Elaine Povich, former Capitol Hill reporter for the Chicago Tribune, said, "One of the things about being a professional is that you attempt to leave your personal feelings aside as you do your work." Only the naive consider reporters soulless automatons who always successfully set aside biases. Worse, in Thomas's case, we know her "personal feelings." Now that we know, she loses credibility in performing the most important function of a free press – to serve as our watchdog over government.