Veteran White House journalist Helen Thomas died early this morning in Washington, D.C., CBS News confirms. She was 92 years old.
A cousin of Thomas’ confirmed her passing to CBS News White House correspondent Peter Maer. There are tentative plans for a funeral in her hometown of Detroit. Friends and relatives are also discussing a Washington remembrance at a future date.
During a long career in Washington, Thomas covered every administration since Dwight Eisenhower. She worked for 57 years for United Press International (UPI), where she eventually became White House bureau manager. Between 2000 and 2010, she was a columnist for Hearst Newspapers.
At 51, Thomas wed fellow reporter Douglas Cornell, who died only seven years later. The couple did not have any children.
An indefatigable presence in the White House briefing room, Thomas became a pioneer for female journalists. She was the first female member of the Gridiron Club and the first female president of the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA). As news of her death spread on Saturday, several prominent female journalists took to Twitter to hail Thomas as a groundbreaking figure.
Steven Tomma, the current president of the WHCA, issued a statement calling Thomas a “trailblazer,” saying the the men and women in the White House press corps “owe a debt of gratitude for the work Helen did and the doors she opened. All of our journalism is the better for it.”
President Obama also released a statement on Saturday saying he and first lady Michelle Obama were “saddened” to learn of Thomas’ passing. “Helen was a true pioneer, opening doors and breaking down barriers for generations of women in journalism,” he said. “She never failed to keep presidents – myself included – on their toes.”
Despite her long career, Thomas became embroiled in controversy in 2010 when she was asked about her views on the State of Israel. An Arab-American who was raised as a Christian, Thomas suggested Israel was occupying Palestine and that Israelis should “get the —- out.”
When asked where they should go, she said they should “go home” to Europe or “America and everywhere else.”
After her comments ignited a controversy, she was forced to resign from her job at Hearst.