Permit me to remind my colleagues, in response to the sudden retirement of 89-year-old Helen Thomas, to be careful what you wish for: It may be satisfying to see her finally heading toward the exit–although I am not so sure this is permanent–but she has always been good for a laugh and rueful shake of the head, and I will miss the old gargoyle.
Remember that Stephen Colbert’s famous rebuke of George W. Bush at the White House Correspondents Dinner was actually part of an extended tribute to none other than Helen Thomas. Remember, too, that all those years when she was ‘reporting’ from the front row in the White House press room–and collecting honorary degrees from 40 institutions of higher learning–she was working for a wire service on the brink of extinction (UPI) which had no American clients. (I used to have a standing bet with colleagues to find a newspaper in the United States that carried anything by Helen Thomas. I never paid out.)
Finally, I shall always cherish the memory of a late winter’s night in 1974, at the height of the Watergate crisis, when I was summoned from bed to the White House to confirm reports that a helicopter had crash-landed on the south lawn. Indeed, it was true: A drunken soldier at Ft. Myer had stolen one and somehow managed to fly it across the Potomac before landing (not crashing) on the White House lawn, just beyond the Mall. And there was Helen Thomas of UPI, running around like a chicken with its head cut off, firmly convinced that this was the opening round of a Pentagon plot to keep Richard Nixon in office.