x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Thank you, Ms Thomas

The death of a pioneering White House correspondent leaves journalism less vibrant.

Since journalism is, at best, a disreputable profession, there are not many reporters who find their passing marked with tributes from the US president and a glowing report on the front page of The New York Times.

But Helen Thomas, the veteran White House correspondent, who died over the weekend aged 92, was one of a kind. Born to Lebanese immigrants, the formidable Thomas started her career in 1943, at a time when female reporters were expected to write about lighter topics. Instead, she broke barriers by becoming the first woman in the White House press corps, grilling, in the course of her career, 10 presidents, starting with John F Kennedy and ending with Barack Obama.

Although she closed every White House news conference with a polite "Thank you, Mr President", Thomas was a fearless speaker of truth to power, taking on the Washington establishment on issues such as the invasion of Iraq, government secrecy and Israel. She may on occasion have been on the wrong side of her peers, but she was on the right side of history.

A true pioneer for journalism and for women, her death leaves journalism, and the US generally, a less vibrant place.