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Front Row at the White House : My Life and Times Paperback – May 3, 2000


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Front Row at the White House : My Life and Times + Thanks for the Memories, Mr. President: Wit and Wisdom from the Front Row at the White House + Watchdogs of Democracy?: The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Touchtone Volume edition (May 3, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684868091
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684868097
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #638,893 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Born in 1920, Helen Thomas was one of United Press International's very few female journalists for years. She promoted herself to UPI's White House Press Corps in 1960 ("I just started showing up every day") and has reported on eight administrations. Her episodic, old-fashioned autobiography contains anecdotes about each president, their first ladies, and their staff. Her stories are often funny, and she doesn't mind when the joke's on her: "Isn't there a war somewhere we can send her to?" Colin Powell inquired after being buttonholed at a party; President Carter's mother said the greatest lesson she learned in 80 years was, "Never to open my mouth around Helen Thomas." She's also fair: even the press secretaries get balanced treatment, though Thomas criticizes the White House's growing efforts to "manage" the news. (Her most affectionate political portrait is of the unmanageable Watergate wife Martha Mitchell.) Thomas pays loving tribute to her parents, hardworking, religious Syrian immigrants, and to her late husband, Associated Press reporter Doug Cornell, but she keeps the focus on the people and public events she covered. Scrupulously impartial when reporting the news, she feels free here to be bluntly opinionated, especially in her unrepentant advocacy of the media's responsibility to ask uncomfortable questions, even when the public condemns them as intrusive. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The veteran Washington reporter gives her account of instant history at the White House, the result of her fly-on-the-wall perch covering the administrations of every president since JFK for United Press International. Thomas is always on hand with a jaded eye, a cynical word and a probing question. And her story gives a view of the Fourth Estate surprisingly dissimilar to those that predominate today. In Thomass telling, the press is an institution, one of the many necessities of a democratic society. Gossip and scandal dont drive events, she asserts, as much as the desire to get the story and tell it first. Contained within her memoirs are remarkable recollections of Lyndon Johnson, who investigated the press as much as it investigated him; of Richard Nixon, who asks Thomas to say a prayer for me in one of Watergates darkest hours; of Martha Mitchell, a cabinet wife (of Nixons John Mitchell) who got sucked in and spat out by Beltway politics; and of First Ladies who offer birthday greetingsand others who close off their private lives. While the book is woefully thin on personal motivation and inner thoughts (one of the shortest chapters is on Thomass husband, former AP White House reporter Doug Cornell), it provides a sharp chronicle of the nations recent historyand of the crusade of women reporters to be considered the equal or better of their male counterparts.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

The hours that I spent reading Helen Thomas' book have been a joy.
C H Tse
There are also a number of factual errors in the book, which I would have thought a careful editor would have found and corrected.
David R Fine
Even if you don't like her personally, this book is just so interesting to read.
B. Hannan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 19, 1999
Format: Hardcover
As the first (and perhaps last) woman to "beat up" no fewer than eight US presidents in succession - figuratively speaking, of course -Helen Thomas certainly could not be accused of pulling any punches. Her book gives us a fascinating insight into the relationship between the elite White House press corps and the President, which comes across as rather like that between prison guard and prisoner: a certain affection develops, but at the end of the day it's still very much adversarial. Helen Thomas comes across as someone with very strong values of truth, honesty and public service, who has not shied away from asking the awkward questions of errant Presidents over many years. Indeed, you might even get the impression she enjoys being perceived as unrelenting and at times blunt in her attempts to present the truth to the public. Her book is a little disjointed in the early chapters, but soon settles into a (perhaps better-edited) chronological pattern, giving excellent insight into the Presidents, their wives, and the various White House staffers whose job it is to manage the news, but who rarely - if ever - manage to control people like Helen Thomas. This book is an excellent read, not too self-centred, but creating a strong impression of a dedicated reporter with a determination to get to the heart of the truth.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By C H Tse on April 2, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The hours that I spent reading Helen Thomas' book have been a joy. If Helen has been re-reading her book, she must have filled in many more stories that have not been told. What a life Helen has had! As I was reading the book, I felt like going into the press room doing the routine of a White House correspondent every day and I could imagine the closeness that the correspondents had with the Presidents in the early years. "Don't lie" - her advice to any President. I hope journalists of today would follow her example of trying to be factual and objective, a quality that has been lost in the quest for circulation. The book has aroused my interest in the life of White House correspondents so much so that I have made a lot of efforts trying to track down "Thank You, Mr President" written in 1946 by Helen's colleague Merriman Smith. I have just started reading "some of the things that were overlooked in the big news of the day" as told by Smitty.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Daniel J. Maloney on May 11, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I believe it is near impossible to read this fascinating book and not come away with a tremendous admiration for Helen Thomas. Approaching 80 years young, Thomas continues to cover the White House as Dean of the White House Press Corps, and Chief White House Correspondent for United Press International (UPI). Thomas has covered the White House since the early days of the Kennedy administration. She has been daily witness to history in the making through her daily presence at the White House, or on travels with the President of the United States.Over the terms of eight U.S. Presidents, Thomas has clearly proven herself to be a fair, credible, and objective representative of the news media. Although "news" has increasingly become a cut-throat, opportunistic, money grubbing industry, Helen Thomas seems to have maintained perspective. She seems to be a principled, fair, yet uncompromising human being in an arena that is generally more interested in "scoops," "ratings" and "sensationalism." In her faithfulness to the finest tenets of her vocation, Thomas works hard to report "without a personal spin." While she has reported everything from the most boring and mundane -- to some of the most critical events in history -- Thomas appears to have done so in all fairness and with a minimum of personal bias. Titled in reference to the front row seat she occupies at the White House during press briefings, Thomas, despite often unflattering reports; albeit fairly represented, appears to have earned the respect of almost every President she has ever covered. In this retrospective, she is able to acknowledge her own flaws and limitations. As a woman who has earned the esteem she has, Helen somehow has remained at heart, a fair and humble reporter.Read more ›
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The book began very slowly and I found the author repeating herself. I was hoping with each new chapter that somehow she would begin to discuss each president one at a time and not constantly jump between them from one paragraph to another. When Ms. Thomas finally did start recounting each First Lady from the past to the present and then continued in the next chapter recounting her stories of each President I was unable to put the book down. At that point I began to enjoy her writing and to gain a new insight through her most exciting career working for the press and spending so much time at the White House.In the end I found it to be a wonderful book well worth reading.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By ash on January 19, 2008
Format: Paperback
I never noticed Thomas much until I saw her bit on Steven Colbert's famous slap in Bush's face at the White House Pres Corps dinner. I started reading more about her and listened to her on many different shows. I respect her a great deal, so was very interested in this book.

Much of it is about her. Too much really. There is also way too much name dropping as well as anecdotes about her and her cronnies that were frankly rather boring. She aslo is rather contradictory. She prides herself on her journalistic integrity but doesn't understand why someone like Lady Bird would have been furious over her leaks about her daughters. She makes a big deal of her front row seat and on the many compliments and accolades that the various presidents bestowed on her. Such things got in the way of what really was an excellent look at the administrations that she worked with.

However, it was in her chapters on Marha Mitchell, and the first ladies, that really make this book a gem. The former esp - we were always told by the administration that she was insane. She wasn't - she was speaking the truth about watergate, and no one wanted to listen. And for the most part does a good job outlining each administration's successes and faults.

However, She was also far from being unbiased. Kennedy was the only democratic president who she had good things to say about. To hear her talk, Clinton's lies were much worse than Watergate or Contragate. She pretty much gave Nixon and Reagan a free pass, but spent pages ranting about Clinton. I don't expect someone working so long to not have opinions but for heavens sake try to put things into perspective.

Since this book was written just at the end of Clinton's term, and since I know that her opinion of Bush Jr is less than stellar, I'd be interested in reading her more current book which talks about his administration. I wonder if she now sees Clinton with perhaps less myopic eyes?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews


More About the Author

Helen Thomas (http://helenthomas.org/) was born in Winchester, Kentucky on August 4, 1920. She was reared in Detroit, Michigan where she attended public schools, and later graduated from Wayne State University. The year after college Thomas served as a copy girl on the now defunct Washington Daily News, and joined United Press International in 1943.

For 12 years Thomas had to be at work at 5:30 a.m. to write radio news for U.P.I. She later had several beats around the federal government, including the Department of Justice, F.B.I., Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and Capitol Hill before she began covering President-elect John F. Kennedy in 1960. Thomas went to the White House in January 1961 as a member of the U.P.I. team headed by the late Merriman Smith, and was there until May 2000. In July 2000 Thomas became a columnist for the Hearst News Service - where she continues today.

During the years she covered Kennedy, Thomas was the first woman to close a presidential news conference with the traditional "Thank you, Mr. President."

Thomas served as President of the Women's National Press Club in 1959 - 60, and she was the first woman officer of the National Press Club after it opened its doors to women members for the first time in 90 years. In addition, Thomas became the first woman officer of the White House Correspondents Association in its 50 years of existence, and served as its first woman president in 1975-76. Thomas also became the first woman member of the Gridiron Club in its history, and the first woman to be elected President in 1993.

In 1968 Thomas was named the "Newspaper Woman of Washington" by the American Newspaper Woman's Club, and in 1975, she was named the "Woman of the Year" in communications by Ladies Home Journal. She has also received the Matrix Award from the Women in Communications, and the World Almanac named Helen Thomas as one of the twenty-five most influential women in America.

Thomas has received numerous honorary doctorate degrees, some of the most recent from Brown University, St. Bonaventure University, Michigan State University and the George Washington University. In addition, she has been a commencement speaker at dozens of colleges and has delivered lectures on the White House and the Presidency throughout the country.

Helen Thomas traveled around the world several times with Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton, and covered every economic summit. In February, 1972, she was the only newspaperwoman to travel with President Nixon to China during his breakthrough trip. Since then, she has been to China on many subsequent presidential visits.

Thomas continues to ask her pointed questions of President Barack Obama and his press secretary on a daily basis.

In September, 1971, Pat Nixon scooped Helen Thomas by announcing her engagement to the Associated Press' retiring White House correspondent, Douglas Cornell, at a White House party hosted by the President in honor of Cornell. The late Cornell and Thomas were married on October 16, 1971.

New in 2009! Listen Up, Mr. President, co-authored with veteran journalist Craig Crawford (http://craigcrawford.com/).

Publishers Weekly on Listen Up, Mr. President: "Helen Thomas stops asking questions and starts giving answers in this how-to guide to the American presidency . . . Her incessant questioning of power also drives home the underlying message of the book: it's a primer not, at heart, for those who would be president but for those who would elect one."

In addition to Listen Up, Mr. President, Thomas is also the author Dateline: White House, her memoir, Front Row at the White House, Thanks for the Memories, Mr. President, and Watchdogs of Democracy? about how journalism has changed.

In 2008 she released her first children's book, The Great White House Breakout. This is laugh out loud funny no matter what your age. Written with Pulitzer nominated political cartoonist Chip Bok, The Great White House Breakout is beautifully color illustrated and is sure to become a family favorite.

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Front Row at the White House : My Life and Times
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