‘First lady of the press’ offers advice to Obama

Longtime White House journalist Helen Thomas delivered a steady stream of witty, often brutally honest remarks on the last 10 U.S. presidents to a full audience of students in the Elliott School Tuesday night.

Thomas, who has covered every president since John F. Kennedy, said with two wars, a lagging economy and rising unemployment, President Barack Obama must be more aggressive and keep the promises he made during his campaign. The event was sponsored by the School of Media and Public Affairs, WRGW and GWTV.

“His heart is in the right place. He has good convictions, but he lacks courage,” she said of Obama.

Thomas, 89, had no qualms imparting some advice to Obama, who is more than 40 years younger than she is. The U.S. must pull out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, she said.

“Yes, Saddam Hussein was ruthless, but [before the war] women had jobs, children went to school and homes had electricity and water,” she said.

Thomas, now a columnist for Hearst Newspapers, said Obama has not been persistent enough in pushing his universal health care plan to Congress, but said she cannot believe the “heartlessness” of female Congress members who have not supported the legislation.

“They’re women. They’re mothers and grandmothers. How can they forget about the children? If it were up to me, I would take away all of their jobs,” she said.

Thomas’ keen perception shone through as she discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the various presidents she has covered.

She said Kennedy was her favorite president because he was “inspired, he grew in office and he learned from his mistakes,” she said. “Kennedy was witty, smart and he had been to war.”

On the other hand, George W. Bush was the most difficult president to cover, Thomas said.

“I don’t think he understood his job at all,” she said.

Thomas said Bush wanted to be a “war” president. The torture tactics he used on detainees were decidedly un-American, she said.

“Even serial killers in this country get due process of the law. We changed our personality in those eight years,” she said.

Thomas, who received an honorary doctorate degree from GW in 1995, called on audience members to ensure equal opportunities and justice for all.

“The bell tolls for all of us. Let’s give peace a chance and let it begin with us,” she said.

Junior Emily Smith was randomly selected from the audience to win an autographed copy of Thomas’s book, “Listen Up, Mr. President.”

“I’m interested because of how long she has been in the public eye. She has witnessed so much history,” Smith said. “To be the first female reporter allowed in the White House and then see a woman almost become president, it’s truly amazing to come to fruition,” she said.

Smith said she enjoyed the stories and anecdotes Thomas discussed in her lecture.

“Her first-hand perspective really brought history to life,” Smith said.

Jesse Regis, news director for WRGW, said he was happy with the event’s turnout.

“[Thomas] loves sharing everything she knows. She has reported on 10 presidents,” he said. “We’re thrilled to have had such a great event.”

Regis, a junior, said it was easier than he thought to bring Thomas to campus.

“It was a little intimidating to approach someone of the caliber of Helen Thomas to come and speak, but she said she’d love to and we were ecstatic,” Regis said.

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