— WASHINGTON (AP) — Helen Thomas, the irrepressible White House correspondent who used her seat in the front row of history to grill 10 presidents and was not shy about sharing her opinions, died Saturday. She was 92.
Thomas, who died at her apartment in Washington, had been ill for a long time, and in and out of the hospital before coming home Thursday, according to a friend, Muriel Dobbin.
Thomas made her name as a bulldog for United Press International in the great wire-service rivalries of old, and as a pioneer for women in journalism.
She was persistent to the point of badgering. One White House press secretary described her questioning as "torture" — and he was one of her fans.
Her refusal to conceal her strong opinions, even when posing questions to a president, and her public hostility toward Israel, caused discomfort among colleagues.
In 2010, that tendency finally ended a career which had started in 1943 and made her one of the best known journalists in Washington. On a videotape circulated on the Internet, she said Israelis should "get out of Palestine" and "go home" to Germany, Poland or the United States. The remark brought down widespread condemnation and she ended her career.
In January 2011, she became a columnist for a free weekly paper in a Washington suburb, months after the controversy forced her from her previous post.
In her long career, she was indelibly associated with the ritual ending White House news conferences. She was often the one to deliver the closing line: "Thank you, Mister. President" — four polite words that belied a fierce competitive streak.
Her disdain for White House secrecy and dodging spanned five decades, back to President John Kennedy. Her freedom to voice her peppery opinions as a speaker and a Hearst columnist came late in her career.