Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Thomas talks journalism, democracy

Helen Thomas has always been the one to ask questions, with interview subjects ranging from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama. But Thursday evening, the longest-serving member of the White House Press Corps provided answers.

“No president has ever liked the press,” she said to the packed McCormick Tribune Center. “Sometimes it was vice versa. Oftentimes.”

The event, titled “An Inside Look at the White House Press Corps with Helen Thomas,” was hosted by College Democrats. Thomas addressed issues that included the current state of journalism, her lasting impressions of the Bush administration and the importance of the media in a democratic society.

Thomas worked for United Press International for almost six decades before she began writing a column for Hearst Newspapers. She is also the author of four books, including her latest, “Watchdogs of Democracy?: The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public.” She is known for asking the first question at presidential news conferences and ending them by saying, “Thank you, Mr. President.”

Medill senior Katie Euphrat, who worked in the White House Press Corps office as an intern last summer, said she was inspired by Thomas and impressed by her achievements.

“She’s seen a lot,” she said. “If I can be as accomplished a journalist as her I will have reached my life goal.”

The 88-year-old said what initially drew her to journalism was her “nosiness.”

“I love prying into other people’s business,” she said.

Thomas heavily criticized the White House under the Bush administration, citing Bush’s “abuse of presidential power” and calling his legacy “abysmal.”

“Dick Cheney was as dark as they come,” she said. “A menace.”

The current economic crisis leaves Obama with many challenges ahead of him, Thomas said. Although she said Obama is on the right track because he recognizes the government has to step in, it will take time for him to fulfill his campaign promises.

“I long ago learned that there is no such thing as an instant president,” she said. “They all have to learn the hard way.”

Thomas emphasized that journalism is the “greatest profession” and one that holds a great responsibility to the public.

“Journalists are indispensable for a democratic society,” she said. “You can’t have a democracy without an informed public.”

Though opinionated news is growing, the newspaper industry as a whole is struggling, Thomas said. To prevent the industry’s downfall, which she said would be a “tragedy,” journalists must strive for perfect accuracy in their reporting, something she said she consistently tried to do in her career.

“I didn’t bow out of the human race when I became a reporter,” she said. “I permitted myself to think and feel. I just didn’t let it in my copy.”

Lily Becker, president of College Democrats, said she was pleased Thomas attracted students who were eager to hear her insight into both politics and journalism.

“The event not only appealed to us political junkies but also to Medill students,” she said. “So many journalists were able to ask questions to an icon in the field.”

Jordan Fein, special projects chair of College Democrats, said Thomas’ first-hand experience with modern presidents gives her a unique perspective.

“Bush created a climate of fear among journalists,” the Weinberg sophomore said. “(Thomas) gave a motivational speech for journalists to embrace their profession and ask tough questions.”

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Thomas talks journalism, democracy