I knew her all too well. I was her immediate boss for a year after I moved to UPI. Helen Thomas refused to work for the Unification Church ownership when it bought the news agency but had no trouble working for the Saudis – The syndicate included the Bin Laden family (I worked for them too).
We had a very easy relationship. I pretended to supervise her and she pretended to respect me. UPI had nothing else in those days and its old managers before the Saudi ownership brought in a new team were so useless and insecure that they happily, indeed desperately subscribed to her legend. In fact she was living on her legend. A typical full day’s filing from her was “Clinton goes golfing.” Not the title – the entire story and the day’s total output – everything.
One of the most fascinating spectator sports in Washington was watching Thomas and contemporaries who privately despised her pretending to respect each other in public when the raw hatred surged between them like high voltage electricity.
I challenge anyone to find a single scoop, or even a memorable line, she ever came up with. Her views of the world were set in tungsten. She was impervious to facts.
It’s a myth that no one knew about her ferocious anti-Zionism and genuine anti-Semitism. Since she was a “living legend” and a literal sacred cow everyone pretended to look the other way and gave her a free hand. The vicious, racist rant that finally forced her out of Hearst was not some sad decline of a great mind. It revealed the way she always had been.
The greatest myth of the White House press corps is that it is smart. (No, Aaron Sorkin, “The West Wing” and “The Newsroom” are not brilliantly insightful depictions of reality — They are ridiculous fairy tales that give unearned, undeserved, entirely fictitious dignity to idiots, pompous, empty ridiculous snobs and performing seals). In fact, the key to access, official approval and therefore success is to be a battery hen — just accept all the garbage they feed you and lay your endless bland eggs on cue.
She did have one genuinely honorable function in the last days of her career when she was writing for Hearst. When the entire White House press corps clucked on chorus over the entirely fraudulent justifications for the invasion of Iraq, she refused to kowtow, she refused to be intimidated and go along with the bovine herd. She deserves to be remembered and respected just for that.