Eighty-eight years ago today, Ms. Helen Thomas entered into a world that was just barely ready for someone as totally awesome as she. Ms. Thomas has been kicking ass and taking names in the White House press briefing room for nine presidential administrations. Count 'em. NINE.
One of the best moments in recent journalistic history was when Ms. Thomas berated White House Press Secretary Dana Perino on torture, then turned her disgust towards her fellow journalists for their inertia. When it became public that President Bush not only knew of high-level meetings on torture but condoned them, Thomas asked:
THOMAS: The President has said publicly several times, in two consecutive news conferences a few months ago, and you have said over and over again, we do not torture. Now he has admitted that he did sign off on torture, he did know about it. So how do you reconcile this credibility gap?
MS. PERINO: Helen, you're taking liberties with the what the President said. The United States has not, is not torturing any detainees in the global war on terror. And General Hayden, amongst others, have spoken on Capitol Hill fully in this regard, and it is I'll leave it where it is. The President is accurate in saying what he said.
THOMAS: That's not my question. My question is, why did he state publicly, we do not torture
MS. PERINO: Because we do not.
THOMAS: when he really did know that we do?
MS. PERINO: No, that's what I mean, Helen. We've talked about the legal authorities
THOMAS: Are you saying that we did not?
MS. PERINO: I am saying we did not, yes.
THOMAS: How can you when you have photographs and everything else? I mean, how can you say that when he admits that he knew about it?
MS. PERINO: Helen, I think that you're again, I think you're conflating some issues and you're misconstruing what the President said.
THOMAS: I'm asking for the credibility of this country, not just this administration.
MS. PERINO: And what I'm telling you is we have torture has not occurred. And you can go back through all the public record. Just make sure I would just respectfully ask you not to misconstrue what the President said.
THOMAS: You're denying, in this room, that we torture and we have tortured?
MS. PERINO: Yes, I am denying that. Elaine, did you have one?
ELAINE (?): I have one on Zimbabwe, actually.
THOMAS: Where is everybody? For God's sakes.
Helen, oh Helen. Marry me?
In May, the indomitable Ms. Thomas took ill and her seat in the briefing room has remained empty since (mostly). Her persistent and insightful challenges to the office of the president have set the bar for all White House correspondents. Especially in light of this administration's consistent and flagrant disregard for the rule of law and Congress' on again, off again relationship with oversight, Ms. Thomas is more valuable than ever. Here's hoping for a speedy recovery and several more years of throwing rocks at the thrown.
Ms. Thomas, there'll never be another like you. Happy birthday, ma'am.
P.S. Hey Congress, hope you're enjoying your break. I know I'm enjoying your vacation. Just a reminder: Let's make sure you pass a strong shield law when you get back.