UPDATED: The longtime White House correspondent and columnist, who was also a familiar presence on TV talk shows and movies, died today. She was 92. She appeared as herself in the 1993 movie Dave, and in documentaries including Thank You, Mr. President: Helen Thomas At The White House, Broadcast Blues, Orwell Rolls In His Grave, and The Final Days. The daughter of Lebanese immigrants, Helen Thomas worked for 57 years at United Press International and covered presidents going back to John Kennedy. But she was probably best known for her role at televised presidential news conferences as the unofficial dean of the White House press corps. She would ask the first question — frequently a sharp challenge to an administration practice or policy — and end the news conferences by saying “Thank you, Mr. President.” Thomas also was a pioneer, becoming the first woman to serve as an officer of the National Press Club, to become president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, and to join the Gridiron Club. She left UPI in 2000 after the wire service was bought by an organization controlled by the Unification Church, and became a columnist for Hearst Newspapers. She retired in 2010 after she caused controversy with an interview posted on YouTube in which she said Israel should “get the hell out of Palestine” and urged Jews living there to “go home” to Poland, Germany, or America. It caused President Obama to condemn her remarks but also to note it was a sad career end for “a real institution in Washington.” Said Obama in a statement today: “Helen was a true pioneer, opening doors and breaking down barriers for generations of women in journalism. She covered every White House since President Kennedy’s, and during that time she never failed to keep presidents – myself included – on their toes. What made Helen the “Dean of the White House Press Corps” was not just the length of her tenure, but her fierce belief that our democracy works best when we ask tough questions and hold our leaders to account. Our thoughts are with Helen’s family, her friends, and the colleagues who respected her so deeply.”
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