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Groundbreaking journalist Helen Thomas dead at 92

Posted at 10:01 AM, Jul 20, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-20 10:24:59-04

By Mariano Castillo and Deb Krajnak, CNN

(CNN) — Longtime White House journalist Helen Thomas has died at age 92, sources told CNN Saturday.

Thomas covered 10 presidents over nearly half a century, and became a legend in the industry.

She was a fixture at White House news conferences — sitting front and center late in her career — where she frequently exasperated government spokesmen with her pointed questions.

Thomas began covering the White House for United Press International when John F. Kennedy became president in 1961 and was a fixture there until her retirement in 2010.

She was a trailblazer and the considered the dean of the White House press corps because she was the longest-serving White House ournalist.

Her career, however, came to an end under a cloud of controversy.

Thomas, then working for the media conglomerate Hearst as a syndicated columnist, was blasted for comments she made regarding Jewish people.

In 2010, a YouTube video surfaced showing her saying that Israel should “get the hell out of Palestine,” and that the Jewish people should go home to “Poland, Germany … and America and everywhere else.”

Thomas apologized for her remarks, writing, “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 thatday come soon.”

She announced her retirement one week later.

In 2012, Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi presented Thomas with an award.

Thomas, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, was born in Winchester, Kentucky, on August 4, 1920. She was one of nine children. Thomas was raised in Detroit, Michigan, where she attended Wayne State University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1942.

In October 1971, Thomas married Douglas Cornell; he died in 1982.

She wrote three books: “Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times” (1999); “Thanks 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).

In describing her job, Thomas once said, “I’ve never covered the president in any way other than that he is ultimately responsible.”

Along the way, she broke some barriers by becoming the first female president of the prestigious White House Correspondents’ Association and Washington’s Gridiron Club.

“I hope there are many women following me right in this same spot,” she said. Well into her 80s, she was a mentor to many young journalists.

CNN’s Candy Crowley, John King, and Wolf Blitzer contributed to this report.