Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times.


By Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas was a journalist for 57 years and a legendary White House Bureau Chief. She was a trailblazer who broke, actually shattered, gender-boundaries by reporting national news from the top level of US government. Thomas deftly describes her life as a White House correspondent in her book, Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times.

The book’s title derives it name from the fact that she traditionally had a front seat at the White House Press Conferences and was accorded the privilege of asking the first question (although she was moved to the back row during the Bush administration due to their difficult and cantankerous relationship). She is also known for her final salutation, “Thank you, Mr. President” an honor reserved for her to say at the culmination of each press conference.

The book, published in May, 2000, is a bird’s eye view of what it’s like to be a ruthless journalist and an insider White House correspondent. Thomas began her career in the White House press corps in 1961, and has enjoyed the unparalleled vantage point to closely observe eight presidential administrations (she covered every president from the Eisenhower administration to the second year of the Obama administration, however, the book concludes with the Clinton administration). The memoir includes hundreds of entertaining tidbits, insider antidotes, intelligent observations and surprising revelations about presidents, first ladies and general political and personal hoopla.

This is also a story about the struggle for women to be taken seriously as journalists in Washington DC, and Thomas’ role as a real leader and crusading ground-breaker. She was the first female officer of the National Press Club and the first woman member (and subsequent president) of the White House Correspondents’ Association. Thomas also opened doors for women by becoming the first female member of the prestigious Gridiron Club and Foundation; an elite Washington DC journalism organization that previously had not accepted female members. In 1972, she was the only female journalist to go on President Nixon's historic trip to China. Her contributions are both inspiring and impressive and transformed the landscape of political reporting for women journalists.

The book’s chapters are sometimes long and occasionally her narrative is rambling. However, Thomas’ life is riveting; her coterie of acquaintances and friends staggering, and her story is amazing. She begins life as a child of immigrant parents (who arrived at Ellis Island neither able to read or write) and later infiltrates the top echelons of American power as one of the world’s most respected journalists. As a result, it is not only a tale worth telling but one definitely worth reading.