Helen Thomas, the White House correspondent who covered ten presidents, died this weekend. She leaves behind a legacy of asking tough questions and not just being a stenographer for whatever message the press secretary wanted the media to repeat.
In 2006, she wrote a column for The Nation about how the reporters on the White House beat (and those who cover the rest of our government) had become lap dogs, particularly in the run-up to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the Washington Post and New York Times aided the Bush administration in making the case for war based on phony evidence, Thomas continued to pound spokesman Scott McLellan with questions he didn’t want to answer. The difference by then, she said, was that her colleagues in both print and broadcast didn’t back her up by following up with similarly pointed queries:
Those were the days when I longed for ABC-TV’s great Sam Donaldson to back up my questions as he always did, and I did the same for him and other daring reporters. Then I realized that the old pros, reporters whom I had known in the past, many of them around during World War II and later the Vietnam War, reporters who had some historical perspective on government deception and folly, were not around anymore.
I honestly believe that if reporters had put the spotlight on the flaws in the Bush Administration’s war policies, they could have saved the country the heartache and the losses of American and Iraqi lives.
It is past time for reporters to forget the party line, ask the tough questions and let the chips fall where they may.
Read the entire “Lap Dogs Of The Press” piece by Helen Thomas here.