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Pioneering journalist Helen Thomas was the first female member of the White House press corps and the United Press International’s first female White House bureau chief. She was often called "the First Lady of the Press."
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Two months after her resignation from UPI, Thomas was hired by the Hearst Corporation as a columnist. She continued to receive accolades for her groundbreaking career including a lifetime award from the National Newspaper Association in 2002 and a lifetime achievement award from the Washington Press Club Foundation in 2007.
But Thomas' career ended in controversy in 2010 when a YouTube video surfaced in which she said that Israelis should "get the hell out of Palestine" and return home to "Poland,
Germany, and America and everywhere else." Thomas issued an apology about her remarks: "They do not reflect my heartfelt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."
Thomas retired a week later, but in July 2011 she returned to writing a column for the Falls Church News-Press. In April 2012, Palestinian activist and scholar Hanan Ashrawi gave Thomas a medal for defending the Palestinian cause on behalf of Mahmoud Abbas, the PLO president.
Thomas wed Douglas Cornell, a White House reporter for the Associated Press, in 1971 and was married until his death in 1982. In addition to her reporting, Thomas wrote three books including Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times (1999), Thank You for the Memories, Mr. President: Wit and Wisdom from the Front Row at the White House (2002) and Watchdogs of Democracy? The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public (2006).
On July 20, 2013, Thomas died after a long illness in the Washington, D.C. apartment where she had lived for more than six decades. Upon her death, President Obama released a statement honoring her trailblazing career: "Helen was a true pioneer, opening doors and breaking down barriers for generations of women in journalism," he stated. "She covered every White House since President Kennedy’s, and during that time she never failed to keep presidents – myself included – on their toes. What made Helen the 'Dean of the White House Press Corps' was not just the length of her tenure, but her fierce belief that our democracy works best when we ask tough questions and hold our leaders to account."
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