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FRONT ROW AT THE WHITE HOUSE by Helen Thomas

FRONT ROW AT THE WHITE HOUSE

My Life and Times

By Helen Thomas

Pub Date: May 7th, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-84911-9
Publisher: Scribner

A straightforward, though not reflective, memoir from Thomas (Dateline: White House, 1975) on the best beat in the world—covering every president from JFK to Clinton for United Press International. The daughter of Lebanese parents, Thomas grew up in Detroit. She came to her passion for journalism early, having written for her high school and college papers. After covering such beats as the Department of Justice and Capitol Hill, she was assigned to the White House in 1961. As the dean of the White House press corps and the person who delivers the final —Thank you, Mr. President— at press conferences, Thomas has become an instantly recognized fixture among the gaggle who report on the presidency. She has won the respect—and often incurred the wrath—of presidents, first ladies, and press secretaries for her bulldog tenacity and her unenthralled view of their work. Many of her best stories come when she sticks to her aim to provide an impressionistic view of these remarkable men and women (e.g., a scandal-scarred Richard Nixon startling her by asking for her prayers). But her assessments of presidents are conventional, and she is rarely critical of her profession’s shortcomings. For instance, she acknowledges that she enraged LBJ by revealing daughter Luci’s wedding plans before the latter had the chance to discuss them with her father. She fails to see that such matters have nothing whatever to do with her aim to hold government officials accountable and to explain their actions and policies. Moreover, while proud of her firsts as a female reporter (e.g., the first woman recipient of the National Press Club’s Fourth Estate Award), she reveals little about what sustained her against male chauvinists of the media. A crisply written account of jousting between presidents and press, but without much insight into these two institutions that Thomas so clearly reveres. (16 pages b&w photos)