Thomas on Hillary, Bush and the Future of Journalism

By Talia Whyte

Veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas thinks Hillary Clinton is getting worse treatment by the media than Barack Obama. During her keynote speech last night at the 2008 Women, Action and the Media Conference, Thomas said Clinton’s bad treatment is due to still lingering sexism in the press.

“Hillary is being demonized by the media because of her gender,” Thomas said. “Every time either Hillary or her husband tries to say something, they get shut up by the media.”

Contrast to his opponent, Thomas says Obama “is walking on water,” as she believes the media is easier on him simply because he is an unknown commodity with a large “fan base.”

Thomas is no stranger to gender discrimination herself. She recalled to an audience of over 500 progressive women media professionals at the conference her experiences of sex politics in the newsroom over the last six decades, how much – or little – things have changed for women journalists, and the future of responsible journalism.

When Thomas started out as a reporter with United Press International in 1943, like other women at the time, she was only allowed to cover women’s issues. She would later go on to cover more serious topics at federal agencies such as the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Thomas would become the president of the Women’s National Press Club in the late 1950s, as well as the first woman member of the White House Correspondents Association and the Gridiron Club.

“It is much better for women journalists today,” she said. “There are more women pursuing journalism in college today than men. “Journalism has become a woman’s field.”

Thomas has also gained the reputation of being the “patron saint of not shutting up,” and she was not going to give her title anytime soon. As she has covered every president since John F Kennedy, who she said was her favorite Commander-In-Chief, Thomas gave an impression of each administration. While Lyndon Johnson was “bigger than life” and “knew where all the bodies were buried,” Bill Clinton was the “consummate politician but ruined his reputation with an affair and definitely will not be on Mount Rushmore.”

However, Thomas’ harshest words were for the current occupant in the White House. She calls the Bush administration the worst and most secretive yet. During Watergate she said that the media was more willing to question authority. However, since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks the press worry more about not gaining access to the president, and have instead become “stenographers rather than watchdogs of the President.”

“There are no pictures of coffins coming back from Iraq in the news,” she continues, “It seems like if you criticize [the Bush Administration], you will be seen as unpatriotic.”

As for the current presidential election, Thomas says that none of the three leading candidates have any idea how to deal with the war in Iraq.

However, she did say that Clinton would be the best candidate for the job because of her experience in the political arena. Thomas went on to say that the racial and sexual politics between the two Democratic candidates are what’s making the election the most interesting to watch.

“What’s wrong with divisiveness?” she said. “That is how politics is played.”

Following her talk, a few African American attendes had a lukewarm reception to Thomas’ remarks.

“I agree and disagree with [Thomas],” said filmmaker Faith Pennick. “I agree that there has been some sexism against Hillary, but I also think Hillary has played the race card many times herself against Obama.”

Nonetheless, the audience was enthused to be in the presence of a woman who has opened up doors in the newsroom for them.

“She is the kind of feminist that motivated me to become a better woman,” said Boston University student Denise Crooks.

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At Sunday, March 30, 2008 1:20:00 PM, Anonymous Misha J in NJ said...

Interesting, but not surprised Thomas is supporting Clinton over Obama. But it didn't seem like she anything to say about racial bombs Clinton is throwing at Obama


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