"FRONT ROW AT THE WHITE HOUSE: My Life and Times" by Helen Thomas is one of the best books of its kind that I have ever read. Richly insightful, highly informative and at turns revelatory, it is not simply a story of Helen Thomas' life and career in journalism. It is also an ongoing history of the eight Presidential administrations --- from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton --- that Helen Thomas covered as a journalist with United Press International (UPI).
Of all the journalists of the White House Press Corps, Helen Thomas was the one I always respected. She would ask the President the hard questions and she always did her job thoroughly and responsibly. I was once fortunate enough, as a high school senior early in the Reagan years, to be part of a group of students she spoke to in Washington. The experience increased my respect for her and for the generation of journalists she represented.
For me, two of the best selling points about this book are Helen Thomas' remarks about the various White House press secretaries she's had to deal with over the years, and her observations about each of the Presidents she covered. (Her impressions of President Kennedy resonated very deeply with me. I doubt that many people know that, for a brief time following his military service, JFK had worked as a journalist with the Hearst News Service, covering the first meeting of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945. I think that helps to explain in many ways how well he understood and appreciated the work of the press in a democratic society --- and the rapport he had with them as President.)
In summing up this review, I'd like to cite the following remarks Helen Thomas made after receiving an award in 1982 from Danny Thomas in connection with the organization that supports St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis, TN:
"I have always thought a president should know right from wrong. When a president deals in less than the truth, the country is the victim. Too often in my years at the White House there has been a lack of candor and misjudgment of the character of the people in a democratic society. Secrecy in matters of public interest can be destructive.
"At the White House, I see instant history and watch the man who has push-button power over our lives. For that reason, I hope that only the most highly principled persons will occupy the Oval Office. It has not always been so. I do believe that our democracy can endure and prevail only if the American people are informed. The people decide, and therein lies the transcending greatness of the land we love."
Helen Thomas continued to cover the White House up to the first term of President Barack Obama. She passed away in July 2013. She was 92 years old.