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Helen Thomas, feisty scourge of presidents, dies at 92

  • FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2009, file photo veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas listens as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs answers her question during his daily press briefing in Washington. Thomas, the irrepressible White House correspondent who used her center, front row seat of history to grill 10 presidents, died Saturday, July 20, 2013, at the age of 92. She pushed open the doors for women at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, when at her urging, President John F. Kennedy refused to attend the 1962 dinner unless it was open to women for the first time. Thomas fought, too, for a more open presidency, resisting all moves by a succession of administrations to restrict press access. "People will never know how hard it is to get information," she told an interviewer, "especially if it's locked up behind official doors where, if politicians had their way, they'd stamp TOP SECRET on the color of the walls." (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

    FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2009, file photo veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas listens as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs answers her question during his daily press briefing in Washington. Thomas, the irrepressible White House correspondent who used her center, front row seat of history to grill 10 presidents, died Saturday, July 20, 2013, at the age of 92. She pushed open the doors for women at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, when at her urging, President John F. Kennedy refused to attend the 1962 dinner unless it was open to women for the first time. Thomas fought, too, for a more open presidency, resisting all moves by a succession of administrations to restrict press access. "People will never know how hard it is to get information," she told an interviewer, "especially if it's locked up behind official doors where, if politicians had their way, they'd stamp TOP SECRET on the color of the walls." (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

  • FILE - In this Aug. 2, 2006, file photo veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas, left, is assisted by CBS television sound technician Eric Washington, right, to to take her personal name plate off of her front and center assigned seat in the press briefing room in the West Wing of the White House prior to the briefing room's renovation. Covering 10 presidents over five decades, Thomas aged into a legend. She was the only reporter with her name inscribed on a chair in the White House briefing room, her own front row seat to history. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

    FILE - In this Aug. 2, 2006, file photo veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas, left, is assisted by CBS television sound technician Eric Washington, right, to to take her personal name plate off of her front and center assigned seat in the press briefing room in the West Wing of the White House prior to the briefing room's renovation. Covering 10 presidents over five decades, Thomas aged into a legend. She was the only reporter with her name inscribed on a chair in the White House briefing room, her own front row seat to history. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

  • In this photo taken Oct. 16, 2007, veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas smiles as she leaves the White House after attending a briefing. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died. She was 92. A friend said Thomas died at her apartment in Washington on Saturday morning. Thomas made her name as a bulldog for United Press International in the great wire-service rivalries of old. She used her seat in the front row of history to grill nine presidents _ often to their discomfort and was not shy about sharing her opinions. 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.  (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

    In this photo taken Oct. 16, 2007, veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas smiles as she leaves the White House after attending a briefing. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died. She was 92. A friend said Thomas died at her apartment in Washington on Saturday morning. Thomas made her name as a bulldog for United Press International in the great wire-service rivalries of old. She used her seat in the front row of history to grill nine presidents _ often to their discomfort and was not shy about sharing her opinions. 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. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

  • FILE - In this May 27, 2010, file photo veteran White House journalist Helen Thomas asks a question of President Barack Obama during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died. She was 92. Thomas made her name as a bulldog for United Press International in the great wire-service rivalries of old. She used her seat in the front row of history to grill nine presidents, often to their discomfort and was not shy about sharing her opinions.  (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

    FILE - In this May 27, 2010, file photo veteran White House journalist Helen Thomas asks a question of President Barack Obama during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died. She was 92. Thomas made her name as a bulldog for United Press International in the great wire-service rivalries of old. She used her seat in the front row of history to grill nine presidents, often to their discomfort and was not shy about sharing her opinions. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

  • FILE - In this July 11, 2007, file photo veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas, center, from Hearst Newspapers, sits in her assigned center, front row seat before the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the renovated James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died. She was 92. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

    FILE - In this July 11, 2007, file photo veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas, center, from Hearst Newspapers, sits in her assigned center, front row seat before the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the renovated James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died. She was 92. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

  • In this photo taken Feb. 9, 2009, President Barack Obama listens to a question by veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas, left, during his first news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Thomas, the irrepressible White House correspondent who used her seat in the front row of history to grill nine presidents and was not shy about sharing her opinions, died Saturday, July 20, 2013. 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.  (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

    In this photo taken Feb. 9, 2009, President Barack Obama listens to a question by veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas, left, during his first news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Thomas, the irrepressible White House correspondent who used her seat in the front row of history to grill nine presidents and was not shy about sharing her opinions, died Saturday, July 20, 2013. 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. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

  • FILE - In this Jan. 21, 1989, file photo, President George H. Bush speaks with reporters, including Helen Thomas, right, in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File)

    FILE - In this Jan. 21, 1989, file photo, President George H. Bush speaks with reporters, including Helen Thomas, right, in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File)

  • FILE - In this Oct, 25, 2006 file photo, Veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas arrives early and waits for a presidential event in the East Room of the White House. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died. She was 92. Thomas made her name as a bulldog for United Press International in the great wire-service rivalries of old. She used her seat in the front row of history to grill nine presidents _ often to their discomfort and was not shy about sharing her opinions.   (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)

    FILE - In this Oct, 25, 2006 file photo, Veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas arrives early and waits for a presidential event in the East Room of the White House. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died. She was 92. Thomas made her name as a bulldog for United Press International in the great wire-service rivalries of old. She used her seat in the front row of history to grill nine presidents _ often to their discomfort and was not shy about sharing her opinions. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)

  • FILE - In this April 13, 1981, file photo, President Ronald Reagan greets UPI reporter Helen Thomas, center, and AP reporter Jim Gerstenzang, right, before an interview in the Treaty Room of the White House in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma, File)

    FILE - In this April 13, 1981, file photo, President Ronald Reagan greets UPI reporter Helen Thomas, center, and AP reporter Jim Gerstenzang, right, before an interview in the Treaty Room of the White House in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma, File)

  • FILE - In this Oct. 20, 1979, file photo, President Jimmy Carter and press secretary Jody Powell, right, talk with reporters Helen Thomas, center, and Sam Donaldson, left, while aboard Air Force One prior to landing at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi, File)

    FILE - In this Oct. 20, 1979, file photo, President Jimmy Carter and press secretary Jody Powell, right, talk with reporters Helen Thomas, center, and Sam Donaldson, left, while aboard Air Force One prior to landing at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi, File)

  • FILE - In this May 12, 1963, file photo, reporter Helen Thomas asks President John F. Kennedy for copies of his announcement pledging Federal power to preserve order and lives in Birmingham, Ala., during a news conference at the White House in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/Bill Allen, File)

    FILE - In this May 12, 1963, file photo, reporter Helen Thomas asks President John F. Kennedy for copies of his announcement pledging Federal power to preserve order and lives in Birmingham, Ala., during a news conference at the White House in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/Bill Allen, File)

  • FILE - In this Sept. 30, 1971, file photo, President Richard Nixon laughs with UPI reporter Helen Thomas, left, and AP reporter Douglas Cornell during an impromptu reception in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/File)

    FILE - In this Sept. 30, 1971, file photo, President Richard Nixon laughs with UPI reporter Helen Thomas, left, and AP reporter Douglas Cornell during an impromptu reception in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/File)

  • FILE - In this Oct. 1, 1971, file photo first lady Pat Nixon motions to Helen Thomas, left, and Douglas B. Cornell to join her on a platform at a White House reception. Thomas, the irrepressible White House correspondent who scooped so many, was herself scooped by the first lady who announced their engagement near the end of the impromptu reception. Thomas, who used her seat in the front row of history to grill nine presidents and was not shy about sharing her opinions, died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/File)

    FILE - In this Oct. 1, 1971, file photo first lady Pat Nixon motions to Helen Thomas, left, and Douglas B. Cornell to join her on a platform at a White House reception. Thomas, the irrepressible White House correspondent who scooped so many, was herself scooped by the first lady who announced their engagement near the end of the impromptu reception. Thomas, who used her seat in the front row of history to grill nine presidents and was not shy about sharing her opinions, died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/File)

  • FILE - In this Aug. 4, 1995, file photo, President Clinton "interviews" UPI White House correspondent Helen Thomas  in the White House briefing room in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92.  (AP Photo/Greg Gibson, File)

    FILE - In this Aug. 4, 1995, file photo, President Clinton "interviews" UPI White House correspondent Helen Thomas in the White House briefing room in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson, File)

  • FILE - In this Aug. 2, 2006, file photo, President Bush, right, greets veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas during the final briefing in the press briefing room in the West Wing of the White House in Washington before its renovation. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

    FILE - In this Aug. 2, 2006, file photo, President Bush, right, greets veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas during the final briefing in the press briefing room in the West Wing of the White House in Washington before its renovation. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

  • FILE - In this Aug. 4, 2009, file photo, veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas, left, celebrates her 89th birthday with President Barack Obama, celebrating his 48th birthday, in the White House Press Briefing Room in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

    FILE - In this Aug. 4, 2009, file photo, veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas, left, celebrates her 89th birthday with President Barack Obama, celebrating his 48th birthday, in the White House Press Briefing Room in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

  • FILE - In this April 13, 1981, file photo, President Ronald Reagan greets UPI reporter Helen Thomas, center, and AP reporter Jim Gerstenzang, right, before an interview in the Treaty Room of the White House in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma, File)

    FILE - In this April 13, 1981, file photo, President Ronald Reagan greets UPI reporter Helen Thomas, center, and AP reporter Jim Gerstenzang, right, before an interview in the Treaty Room of the White House in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma, File)

  • FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2009, file photo veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas listens as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs answers her question during his daily press briefing in Washington. Thomas, the irrepressible White House correspondent who used her center, front row seat of history to grill 10 presidents, died Saturday, July 20, 2013, at the age of 92. She pushed open the doors for women at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, when at her urging, President John F. Kennedy refused to attend the 1962 dinner unless it was open to women for the first time. Thomas fought, too, for a more open presidency, resisting all moves by a succession of administrations to restrict press access. "People will never know how hard it is to get information," she told an interviewer, "especially if it's locked up behind official doors where, if politicians had their way, they'd stamp TOP SECRET on the color of the walls." (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
  • FILE - In this Aug. 2, 2006, file photo veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas, left, is assisted by CBS television sound technician Eric Washington, right, to to take her personal name plate off of her front and center assigned seat in the press briefing room in the West Wing of the White House prior to the briefing room's renovation. Covering 10 presidents over five decades, Thomas aged into a legend. She was the only reporter with her name inscribed on a chair in the White House briefing room, her own front row seat to history. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
  • In this photo taken Oct. 16, 2007, veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas smiles as she leaves the White House after attending a briefing. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died. She was 92. A friend said Thomas died at her apartment in Washington on Saturday morning. Thomas made her name as a bulldog for United Press International in the great wire-service rivalries of old. She used her seat in the front row of history to grill nine presidents _ often to their discomfort and was not shy about sharing her opinions. 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.  (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
  • FILE - In this May 27, 2010, file photo veteran White House journalist Helen Thomas asks a question of President Barack Obama during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died. She was 92. Thomas made her name as a bulldog for United Press International in the great wire-service rivalries of old. She used her seat in the front row of history to grill nine presidents, often to their discomfort and was not shy about sharing her opinions.  (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
  • FILE - In this July 11, 2007, file photo veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas, center, from Hearst Newspapers, sits in her assigned center, front row seat before the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the renovated James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died. She was 92. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
  • In this photo taken Feb. 9, 2009, President Barack Obama listens to a question by veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas, left, during his first news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Thomas, the irrepressible White House correspondent who used her seat in the front row of history to grill nine presidents and was not shy about sharing her opinions, died Saturday, July 20, 2013. 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.  (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
  • FILE - In this Jan. 21, 1989, file photo, President George H. Bush speaks with reporters, including Helen Thomas, right, in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File)
  • FILE - In this Oct, 25, 2006 file photo, Veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas arrives early and waits for a presidential event in the East Room of the White House. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died. She was 92. Thomas made her name as a bulldog for United Press International in the great wire-service rivalries of old. She used her seat in the front row of history to grill nine presidents _ often to their discomfort and was not shy about sharing her opinions.   (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)
  • FILE - In this April 13, 1981, file photo, President Ronald Reagan greets UPI reporter Helen Thomas, center, and AP reporter Jim Gerstenzang, right, before an interview in the Treaty Room of the White House in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma, File)
  • FILE - In this Oct. 20, 1979, file photo, President Jimmy Carter and press secretary Jody Powell, right, talk with reporters Helen Thomas, center, and Sam Donaldson, left, while aboard Air Force One prior to landing at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi, File)
  • FILE - In this May 12, 1963, file photo, reporter Helen Thomas asks President John F. Kennedy for copies of his announcement pledging Federal power to preserve order and lives in Birmingham, Ala., during a news conference at the White House in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/Bill Allen, File)
  • FILE - In this Sept. 30, 1971, file photo, President Richard Nixon laughs with UPI reporter Helen Thomas, left, and AP reporter Douglas Cornell during an impromptu reception in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/File)
  • FILE - In this Oct. 1, 1971, file photo first lady Pat Nixon motions to Helen Thomas, left, and Douglas B. Cornell to join her on a platform at a White House reception. Thomas, the irrepressible White House correspondent who scooped so many, was herself scooped by the first lady who announced their engagement near the end of the impromptu reception. Thomas, who used her seat in the front row of history to grill nine presidents and was not shy about sharing her opinions, died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/File)
  • FILE - In this Aug. 4, 1995, file photo, President Clinton "interviews" UPI White House correspondent Helen Thomas  in the White House briefing room in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92.  (AP Photo/Greg Gibson, File)
  • FILE - In this Aug. 2, 2006, file photo, President Bush, right, greets veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas during the final briefing in the press briefing room in the West Wing of the White House in Washington before its renovation. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
  • FILE - In this Aug. 4, 2009, file photo, veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas, left, celebrates her 89th birthday with President Barack Obama, celebrating his 48th birthday, in the White House Press Briefing Room in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
  • FILE - In this April 13, 1981, file photo, President Ronald Reagan greets UPI reporter Helen Thomas, center, and AP reporter Jim Gerstenzang, right, before an interview in the Treaty Room of the White House in Washington. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, has died Saturday, July 20, 2013. She was 92. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma, File)

Helen Thomas, a wire service correspondent and columnist whose sharp questions from the front row of the White House press room challenged and annoyed 10 presidents and who was effective in divulging information that federal officials tried to keep secret, died yesterday at her home in Washington. She was 92.

A friend, retired journalist Muriel Dobbin, confirmed her death. No immediate cause of death was disclosed, but Thomas had been on dialysis for a kidney ailment.

Unintimidated by presidents or press secretaries, Thomas was known as the dean of the White House press corps for her longevity in the beat. She reported for the United Press International wire service for almost 60 years.

Among the most-recognized reporters in America, Thomas was a short, dark-eyed woman with a gravelly voice who, for many years, rose from her front-row seat at presidential news conferences to ask the first or second question. For nearly 30 years, she closed the sessions with a no-nonsense “Thank you, Mr. President.”

“Helen was a true pioneer, opening doors and breaking down barriers for generations of women in journalism,” President Obama said in a statement. “She covered every White House since President Kennedy’s, and during that time she never failed to keep presidents – myself included – on their toes.”

Thomas’s pointed queries often agitated the powerful, but she was also lauded for posing questions “almost like a housewife in Des Moines would ask,” a colleague once said. She asked President Richard Nixon point-blank what his secret plan to end the Vietnam War was, and she asked President Ronald Reagan what right the United States had to invade Grenada in 1983.

When President George H.W. Bush announced that the defense budget would remain the same after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of communism in Europe, she succinctly asked, “Who’s the enemy?”

“I respect the office of the presidency,” she told Ann McFeatters for a 2006 profile in magazine, “but I never worship at the shrines of our public servants. They owe us the truth.”

Thomas had a number of scoops, including her exclusive interviews with Martha Mitchell, which helped expose some aspects of the Watergate scandal. Mitchell, the wife of Attorney General John Mitchell, told Thomas in late-night phone calls that she had seen a Nixon campaign strategy book that included plans for Watergate-style operations. Thomas also broke the story that Nixon’s speechwriters were working on a resignation address that he would give the next day.

Her strength was her indefatigable pursuit of hard news, the bread-and-butter staple of the wire services. She arrived at work every morning before dawn and accompanied nine presidents on overseas trips. She was the only female print reporter to accompany Nixon on his historic visit to China, and later, in her 70s and 80s, she often outdistanced younger reporters on arduous around-the-world travels.

Her unparalleled experience covering the presidency earned her the respect and affection of both colleagues and public officials for decades.

In 2000, she quit UPI and became a columnist for the Hearst News Service, a job she retired from in 2010 after she told a rabbi that Jewish settlers should “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back to “Poland, Germany, America and everywhere else.”

She apologized, but White House spokesman Robert Gibbs denounced her comments as “offensive and reprehensible.” The White House Correspondents’ Association issued a rare admonishment, calling her statements “indefensible.”

The remarks ignited a controversy that had been simmering for years. The daughter of Lebanese immigrants, Thomas routinely questioned White House officials over U.S. policies towards Israel and the Middle East, which led some to complain she was too sympathetic to Palestinian and Arab viewpoints.

Thomas was clear about her antipathy to secretive government and her belief that the George W. Bush administration disregarded well-established law. In 2003, she told another reporter that she was covering “the worst president in American history.” The remark was quoted, and Bush, who was not amused, froze her out. She apologized in writing, and he accepted her regrets but did not call on her at his news conferences for the next three years.

Thomas had spent much of her life fighting against unearned privilege, leading a decadeslong battle to gain female reporters equal access to jobs, news and newsmakers.

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