SPEAKER 1: My name is Ben [INAUDIBLE]. I'm the co-president of the Cornell Political Coalition, and I'd like to welcome you to tonight's program. I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank people who have worked hard to make this event a reality-- Joe [INAUDIBLE], Halle Lauer, Cassie Morillo, Gary [? Snide ?] Kraut, and the rest of the CUPB team, Professor Ross Brand, dean of Alice Cook House, Nikki [INAUDIBLE], the residence hall director for College Town Edgemore, the Department of Near Eastern Studies, Mary Opperman, the vice president for human resources, the Office of the Vice President for University Communications, the Knight institute for Writing and the Disciplines, Everett [INAUDIBLE], my co-president, and the rest of the Cornell Political Coalition's executive board, and many, many other departments. I appreciate your hard work and patience over the last semester and a half.
Helen Thomas has covered nine presidential administrations, dealt with 18 White House press secretaries, spanning a career of over 55 years. What's even more impressive than her length of service is her record of service. To this day, Helen Thomas continues to ask critical hard-hitting questions of those in power. In an era of unprecedented government secrecy, a time when many in government feel as though they are above the law and care little for the people they are sworn to represent, the role of Helen Thomas and those like her is ever more important.
Helen Thomas holds the office of the president to a very high standard. Miss Thomas, we salute your work and admire your service. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Helen Thomas.
HELEN THOMAS: Thank you. Thank you. What a nice greeting. It's really hard to hear your obituary.
I'm very honored to be invited to Cornell University, a great university far from the madding crowd. I think it's great to meet the leaders of tomorrow. That's you. But you must know that your work, which, to make this a better world, a more equal country, is cut out for you. To put it mildly, I don't think we have ever been in worse shape as a country, not in my lifetime-- soulless, heartless.
This is your century, the 21st century. And to start it with a war that even the president cannot justify without clouding the facts has made us a rudderless society. Hopefully the American people will not accept this president's primitive drive for war without end. What can he be thinking? More than that, why do Americans tolerate such dumbing down of our country?
They will soon say enough is enough I believe. It is wrong to ask the ultimate sacrifice of friend and foe without a good reason, and we have yet to hear that, whatever the reason, because truth has taken a holiday in this war.
President Bush struck a match across the Middle East. He invaded Iraq under false pretenses, and we now occupy that destroyed country. And we are warning them that if they don't shape up and if they don't pick up-- that if they don't behave like we told them to do, we're going to pick up our marbles and go home. They should be so lucky.
Who are we? What have we become? Whose war is this? Thousands are dead, thousands wounded, and to this day you cannot get a straight answer on why we attacked a third-world country, the world's only major military superpower. We had a chokehold on Iraq. It couldn't make a move, tough economic sanctions. They say a quarter of a million children died because they couldn't get medicines for ordinary illnesses. Satellite surveillance. We were bombing them in the so-called no-fly zone every other night. Four years of past history.
Of course we need to deal with terrorism since we are the target, but first we have to find out what is it, and why terrorism. What caused terrorism? Is it politics, religion, our foreign policy that has compelled this hostility when it didn't exist before? Why are we no longer the most admired country in the world and one to be emulated? This is the time. This is the time to start thinking of peaceful solutions to set our world straight again.
We won. We won the 60-year Cold War with the former Soviet Union with exchange students, exchange teachers, the voice of America, the pope, blue jeans, rap music. And when the Russian leader at the time, Mikhail Gorbachev, lifted the Iron Curtain a bit, let some of the democratic ideas come in, freedom became so contagious.
And we kept our powder dry. You cannot shoot people in their own country to liberate them. They should be the grateful dead. As you can tell, I am against the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
It is illegal, it's immoral, and unconscionable to wage a war against a country that did nothing to us. This war, and the killing goes on, is in its fifth year now. We should have left yesterday.
I decided I wanted to be a newspaper woman in high school. I saw my byline in the high school newspaper and my ego swelled, and I was hooked for life. I found out that I had chosen a career where I had to keep learning, that I couldn't miss a beat. I was told it was a career where you meet such interesting people, and that is certainly true. In fact, everyone is interesting to a reporter, and you do learn from everyone.
Although the presidential election is not until 2008, there is a proliferation of candidates, as you know. And for the first time in history, a woman, Senator Hillary Clinton, and a black, Barack Obama, Senator of Illinois, are serious contenders. Both are Democrats, and it's about time that a woman and a black really have a chance.
Unfortunately, all we hear about now is about fundraising, the obscene amount of money it takes to run a campaign for the presidency. We hear little or only vaguely what those candidates really want to do to right so many of the wrongs in our society and to reach for a more peaceful world. So far, all we have is the search for deep-pocketed donors, and a wiping out of public financing to give everyone a role. They won't accept public money. So save your $3 on your income tax. Television should provide free airtime for all the candidates. And we always hear that the airwaves belong to us. Baloney.
I do believe that this country is ready for a big change. We have, as I say, a woman speaker of the house, a woman secretary of state. Meantime, we have a president more and more isolated and speaking of victory in Iraq. This president has two years to go, and he does have a right to worry about his legacy, if he does. The presidency is a top of the mark. Ain't no other place to go. So one should always try to do the right thing, but time is running out.
Of course, this president is ignoring the will of the people to cut our losses. And they are keeping up a charade at the White House that we were invited into Iraq. If they asked us to leave, I've asked them, would we leave? No way, Jose. But what is victory and what is defeat in Iraq? We might try to remember it's their country. Once in a while we can remember that.
The president's popularity polls are in the low 30s-- I guess maybe 38, higher. But they are circling the wagons at the White House, and they are under siege. And right now, there is a scandal involving the politicization of the Justice Department with the firing of eight prosecutors, and it has engulfed the White House.
We have a very imperial presidency, apparently answerable to no one, above the law, aided and abetted by chicken Democrats who--
Who fiddle around with timetables and benchmarks to hold back the dawn when they really should be showing some guts, some courage. There is no question that 9/11 has brought on a traumatic change in this country. For alleged security, we seem to be willing to forego our privacy and our great sense of justice. We have allowed ourself to go to war based on untruths, no weapons of mass destruction, no ties to the al-Qaeda terrorist network, no threat from a third-world country. We have permitted ourselves to be wiretapped, our email pried into, our mail opened. We have tolerated torture of suspects and prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other prisons, humiliation of human beings at Guantanamo Bay. Surely this is not worthy of a great country.
We allowed Congress to take away the ancient right of habeas corpus. It goes back to the Magna Carta. We pick up people, imprison them, never charge them or try them. We keep them in limbo and send them to secret prisons to be tortured and interrogated. Is this America?
Yes, there will be mayhem if we pull out. There is now, and we are exasperating the situation. We should be saving lives. We cannot justify what we've done. The voters did send the president a message last November, a message he didn't want to hear and is still resisting. The president wants to pass this war on to his successor. He wants to run out the clock.
There is, of course, the concern that we are baiting Iran into a war, not an invasion, but an air attack. We have two naval task forces in Iran's backyard-- aircraft carriers, planes, submarines, missiles. A little bit of provocation, wouldn't you say? Well, it's a new ballgame on Capitol Hill, with the Democrats in charge mostly in the house, and by a very thin reed in the Senate. Nevertheless, it is a break in the republicans' control of the three branches of government. The democrats are split between those who genuinely want to do something about the war, and the super cautious so-called moderates who want to play it safe and wait until the next election.
This president has tried to politicize every government agency and stack it with his own cronies and party loyalists. There is an undoing of the Civil Service Commission. There is an undoing of the public school system. And there is a total tearing down of this administration of what government is supposed to do. The last I talked, last I looked, the Washington Monument was still in public hands. But I wouldn't count on it.
On another note, we are spending our National Treasury on war while 48 million people in this country have no health insurance.
Children go to school in this country with no breakfast. The schools are falling down. Government programs to alleviate the suffering are being cut, not to mention the college loans and so forth. And yet, the biggest tax cuts still go to the richest people in this country. Something's got to be wrong with that picture. They're finally doing something about the minimum wage-- $5.15 an hour. Can you imagine? Big auto companies are in big trouble, and it will take years for a true accounting of the war profiteering.
We have 100,000 private contractors in Iraq. Many have paid the price with their lives, because it's Russian roulette on the streets of Baghdad. As for the press, the book I wrote, Watchdogs of Democracy, is very critical of my colleagues for letting the country down. Our one weapon in journalism is skepticism. And when reporters don't ask the president the key questions, they don't get asked. We don't have the British system where the prime minister goes to the House of Commons and is really grilled by the backbench.
We are the only institution-- we in the press-- only institution in our society that can question a president on a regular basis and hold him accountable. And when we default on that, we do let the people down.
After 9/11, reporters were afraid to rock the boat. They were afraid to be called unpatriotic, un-American. They're now coming out of their coma, finally, and they're much more hard driving. They did see and were allowed to see by their corporate heads the flaws in the handling of Katrina, which is still a debacle. This great country can do anything, and yet it has fallen down on the job in the gulf with New Orleans.
Just as Hugo Black said once upon a time-- only a free and unrestrained press can actively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is a duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people.
I came to Washington in a different era, when government was actually respected, liberals were not demonized. We had a caring society, a society trying to make up for the sins of the past, to help the poor, the sick, the maimed, and to dare to tear down the racial and ethnic barriers that made so many second-class citizens. It was a hopeful time, the last half of the 20th century. The idealists were legion. They overcame the hardships of the Great Depression and World War II. They were believers in the people. We had nothing to fear but fear itself. It was an era that personified Lincoln's philosophy that government should do for people what they cannot do for themselves.
I came to Washington determined to be a reporter. And my friend Liz carpenter had just graduated from the University of Texas. She too wanted to be a newspaper woman. And we went knocking on doors at the National Press Club building asking for jobs. And Liz was always on the plump side. Who wasn't in that era? And later she became a great Texas newspaper woman and press secretary to Lady Bird Johnson. Well, she ran out of money a couple days before I did, and she wired her brother, "Please send me $200, or I'm going to have to sell my body."
He wired back, "Sell it by the pound."
But he sent the money. I got my big break as a copy boy on the now defunct Washington Daily News for the munificent salary salary of $17.50 a week. Those were the good old days.
I thought I'd give you my take on the presidents I've covered, all well-intentioned, but something happened on the way to the forum. John F. Kennedy, most inspired, he created the Peace Corps. He signed the first nuclear test ban treaty. He urged young people to go into public service, telling them that it could be the crown of their careers. He said, we're going to land men on the moon in a decade. He didn't live to see it, but we did it.
Much was made of the fact that he was a Roman Catholic when he ran for the presidency in 1960 against Richard Nixon, who carried the Republican banner. And during that campaign, when he faced all these rumors that he'd be taking orders from the pope, Kennedy flew to Houston to speak at a Houston Presbyterian ministers conference, and he assured them that the Vatican would not be running the country if he became president. And he won them over when he told them, "When my brother Joe got into his plane during World War II for his fatal trip across the English Channel, no one asked him whether he was a Catholic or a Protestant." And when his son John John was born, I asked Kennedy if he also wanted him to grow up to be president. He said, "I just want him to be healthy." Kennedy said there's a universe out there that has to be explored. He set goals for us. He gave us hope.
And then there was Lyndon B. Johnson. Bigger than life, he had to have it all. But after FDR, he made the greatest contribution to our country domestically in the last half of the 20th century. He rammed through Congress on the tailwind of the Kennedy assassination during his first two years in office Medicare, which Truman first proposed. And I remember going to Truman's home in Independence, Missouri when Johnson was going to sign the Medicare bill, and he did sign it. And after signing it, Max Frankel, who was a White House correspondent for the New York Times, later became its executive editor, came up to President Johnson. He said, Mr. Johnson, Mr. President, my mother thanks you. And Johnson said, you should thank me, meaning the children of the elderly would not be totally saddled with these medical bills.
He also got through because Johnson had been Senate Majority leader. He knew where all the bodies were buried. He knew every man's price. He ran through the Civil Rights Act, voting rights for blacks for the first time in the south, public housing, federal aid to education, from Head Start through college, environmental laws, national parks, you name it. Well, shortly after Johnson became president, a group of his southern cronies came to the Oval Office and they said, what is this, Lyndon? When you were in the Senate, you were one of us. You were a southerner. Johnson said, I'm president now, president of all the people.
Richard Nixon always had two roads to go. He always took the wrong road.
He did make the breakthrough trip to China. He worked for détente with the Soviet Union, and he said he had a plan to end the Vietnam War. Four and a half years later, we were still bombing the hell out of Hanoi. He was politically astute. If he were standing here today, he could tell you who was going to win the presidency in 2008. He was that astute. He won re-election in 1972, but the Watergate scandal was his denouement, and he became the first president in American history to be forced to resign from office.
The late Gerald Ford told us on taking office that the long national nightmare was over, meaning Watergate. He restored confidence in the Oval Office. He stabilized the country in the aftermath of Watergate. But he pardoned Richard Nixon, and that did not sit well with the voters.
Jimmy Carter put human rights as the centerpiece of his foreign policy. He won the Nobel Peace-- he has won the Nobel Peace Prize. He is in demand all over the world to settle disputes. Both sides know that he would be fair. Both sides want him to be the mediator. He's an outstanding past president.
Ronald Reagan turned the country to the right. There was a Reagan Revolution. And during his tenure, however, 100 officials were forced to resign or fired for wrongdoing. He said government was the problem, not the solution. He did start an arms race with an already economically straddled Soviet Union, and it did help to end the Cold War.
George Herbert Bush, 41, conducted a successful Gulf War. After the liberation of Kuwait, he wisely decided not to go onto Baghdad, where he said there would be house-to-house fighting and a civil war. Imagine that. He failed to win re-election because of the depressed economy. As for Iraq, been there, done that, but his son said he listens to a higher father.
Bill Clinton-- charismatic politician, won the presidency twice, but didn't understand that his opponents had denied him any legitimacy from the moment he stepped into the Oval Office. He was being investigated. He worked for Peace in Northern Ireland, Balkans, Middle East. He left a big surplus in the treasury when he left office, and it's now been dissipated, of course, by the war. He missed his chance for greatness, I believe, because of his old liaison with an intern and being so demonized. He won't be on Mount Rushmore.
George Bush, 42, simple philosophy-- black and white, dead or alive, with us or against us. He's a conservative all the way. He tore down the wall of separation of church and state, setting up, for the first time in history, a religious office in the White House. He wanted to be known as a wartime president. He is.
No president has ever liked the press dating back to George Washington. I wasn't covering him, but Kennedy said, I'm reading more and enjoying it less. What LBJ said is unprintable. He also grumbled to us, "You all have the First Amendment," as though it were some special weapon designed against presidents. As a matter of fact, it is.
Nixon looked up when we poured into the cabinet room one day for a picture taking photo op. He said, "It's only coincidental that we're talking about pollution when the press walks in." President Ford likened my question to acupuncture. And he said that if God had created the world in six days, on the seventh day he could not have rested. He would have had to explain it to Helen Thomas.
I hope I would have been asking God why, my favorite question. President Reagan, when he was told that the , Sandinistas the Marxist communists, had fired on a press helicopter at the Honduran border, he said, "There's some good in everyone."
When President Clinton was asked by a friend why the press always went along in the motorcade when he went jogging, he laughed and said, "They just want to see if I drop dead." That's true. We're on what we call the body watch. When Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today, went to Havana a couple of years ago, he asked Fidel Castro, "Now, what's the difference between your democracy and ours?" Castro said, "I don't have to answer questions from Helen Thomas."
I have many memories in covering the White House. I remember Kennedy's off the cuff remark. Life is unfair, he said. And like most presidents, LBJ had a stable of speechwriters. Once he asked that a certain speech be prepared. Speechwriter brought him the first draft. He looked at it and said, "Voltaire? Voltaire? People I'm going to talk to don't know who Voltaire is." He grabbed a pen, scratch out Voltaire, and scribbled in, "As my dear old daddy used to say--"
We were often invited to the LBJ ranch-- often invited to the LBJ ranch for dinner, and once Johnson asked Bill Moyers, who had been a Baptist minister, was then his press secretary, to say grace. Moyers bent his head, began to pray, and Johnson commanded, speak up, Bill. I wasn't talking to you, Mr. President, Moyers replied.
And when LBJ was taken to Bethesda Naval Hospital just outside of Washington for gallbladder surgery, the psychiatric ward had been transformed into a press room. "What happened to the patients?" Johnson asked Moyers. "We gave them all press cards," said Bill Moyers.
And then there was my favorite, Midge Costanza, who handled women's affairs in the Carter White House. She said, I don't mind Carter being born again, but did he have to come back as himself? When I asked Billy Carter, the president's brother, if he too had been born again, he said, once is enough. And then there was my real favorite, Mrs. Lillian, Carter's mother, who said, sometimes when I look at my children, I wish I'd remained a virgin.
And when Jimmy Carter won the presidential election, a reporter ran up to Mrs. Lillian and said, aren't you proud of your son? She said, which one?
And I remember interviewing her in Plains, Georgia in 1976. She was still fuming over a French woman correspondent who had belabored Carter's campaign promise never to lie. Kept asking Mrs. Logan, what did he really mean by that? Finally, she said to Mrs. Lillian, do you lie? Mrs. Lillian said, well, I might tell a little white lie. Well, what do you mean by a little white lie? In total exasperation, Mrs. Lillian said, you remember when you came through that door and I told you how beautiful you look? Well, that's a little white lie.
And then there was Henry Kissinger, the man with an enormous ego. A woman ran up to Kissinger and said, oh, Dr. Kissinger, thank you for saving the world. He said, you're welcome.
Adlai Stevenson said, democracy is great, not only because the majority prevails, but because it's safe to be in the minority. Winston Churchill said, democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been invented.
After the Cuban Missile Crisis, where both Kennedy and Khrushchev knew they had nuclear arsenals that could blow up the world, each stepped back from the brink, each had known war, each believed in humanity. Kennedy went to American University and he said, America-- America would never start a war. Our generation has had enough of hate and war. We want a world where the weak are secure and the strong are just.
The Reverend William Sloane Coffin, a great civil rights activist and anti-war-- anti-Vietnam War-- leader said several months ago before he died, quote, "the war against Iraq is as disastrous as it is unnecessary. Perhaps in terms of its wisdom, purpose, and motives, the worst war in American history. Our military men and women were not called to defend America, but to attack Iraq. They were not called to die for their country, but rather to kill for their country. What more unpatriotic thing could we have asked of our sons and daughters?"
Jefferson said, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Justice Brandeis said that a constant spotlight on public officials lessens the possibility of corruption.
At the end of World War II, President Truman sent Justice Robert Jackson from Upstate New York here to Nuremberg to be our chief prosecutor at the Nazi war crimes trials. Nazi generals told Jackson, we're on trial because we lost a war. He said, no, you're on trial because you started a war.
During the Martin Luther King march on Washington, we all remember his immortal speech "I Have a Dream," but I remember even more the rabbi who had been in a Nazi concentration camp for many years. And he said that the greatest sin of all in the Nazi era was silence.
Lincoln said, let the people know the facts and the country will be safe. I believe that. So ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for all of us. Let's give peace a chance and let it begin with us. Thank you.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. I think I'm going to have-- thank you. What a great audience. I'm going to wrap you all up and take you back with me. I think I have a bunch of questions. You have the cards.
SPEAKER 1: Thank you so much, guys. Another round of applause for Helen Thomas.
HELEN THOMAS: Oh, no. Thank you.
SPEAKER 1: We do have some questions that we've taken ahead of time from the audience, so let me read them to you. What do you know about press cores in other governments, for instance in Europe? It seems to me that government executive branches in other Western countries have more direct contact with the people and don't formalize their press relations as much as the United States.
HELEN THOMAS: Well, I think that's not true really. I think that we set the tone. We set the leadership. I must say that I had been to the Soviet Union many times with different presidents. And after the real revolution, the most recent where the Soviet Union really fell, I was shocked that suddenly all of a sudden, the Russian reporters began asking their own leaders what was going on, and why, and so forth.
No, I think that we have set the tone, but I think we also have fallen down on the job because of 9/11. But there's no question the American press leads the way.
SPEAKER 1: You obviously had a starring role in Stephen Colbert's speech at last year's White House.
[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]
HELEN THOMAS: I've got more mileage out of that than 50 years of reporting.
SPEAKER 1: You had a starring role in Stephen Colbert's speech at last year's White House Correspondents' Association.
HELEN THOMAS: And the president hated it.
SPEAKER 1: How did your involvement in the speech affect your work and your relations with those you cover? And more generally, how would you characterize the effects of Colbert's speech on the press corps?
HELEN THOMAS: Well, they were very silent when they should have laughed because they were afraid to offend the president. Not me, I was roaring. After all, who is he? Just the president, right? I tell everyone at the White House, look, don't push me around. I pay you. Every taxpayer pays them. They are. And that goes for the president of the United States. We pay them. They are public servants. They take oaths to uphold the Constitution. And too often, they let us down.
SPEAKER 1: When we consider Rosie O'Donnell's coming out on 9/11 these last few days, do you think there is a boundary that journalists can cross with certain comments and would you consider crossing that boundary to be un-American? Also is this boundary drawn differently for women?
HELEN THOMAS: I certainly don't think it's different for women. And I certainly think that when you have freedom of speech, I think there's no question you offend a lot of people and you get a lot of trouble, as Imus did the other day by attacking the Rutgers-- the basketball-- not attacking them, saying offensive things. And you do backtrack and I think that there's a lot of mea culpa involved.
So there are certain lines of civility and courtesy, I think, and you shouldn't be insulting. But so many now talk show hosts make their living by insulting you, and we laugh.
SPEAKER 1: This is a little bit shorter. How do we get rid of paperless electronic voting machines?
HELEN THOMAS: Vote them out. Knock them out. I think that's terrible that there is no paper trail on the votes.
SPEAKER 1: What are the major differences between recent administrations in the last 20 years and those of earlier years in terms of the press conference atmosphere?
HELEN THOMAS: Well, no president really likes to hold news conferences. Maybe Kennedy. He had fun, and with warmth, and he sort of loved a challenge. But I would say most presidents don't like-- and yet it's the only forum in our society, as I said, where a president can be questioned. If he's not questioned, he could be a king or a dictator.
President Reagan used to hold the prime time news conferences, but he would take briefing books the size of telephone books to Camp David, as though he were preparing for an oral PhD to answer the questions. So they really have to bone up. And this one, this president holds very few press conferences, and he won't take the second question because he's only primed with the first. For the first.
SPEAKER 1: Ms. Thomas, George McGovern is coming to campus in a few days. Which presidential losers would have been a great president, in your opinion?
HELEN THOMAS: McGovern. He would have been great.
SPEAKER 1: Much has happened between 1937 and 2007, but I'm sure our college lives may have been very-- may have varied similarities between them. Do you have any advice for the college kids of today?
HELEN THOMAS: Use your greatest advantage. Study hard. Learn everything you can. You'll never regret it, and you'll always be surprised at how much you have learned when-- set your goals.
Find anything, any kind of a career that will make you happy and make you want to go to work, even when you're dead tired. I mean, I was so lucky to pick a profession where my curiosity, nosiness-- I wanted to go in to work every day. I was afraid I'd miss something.
So I think it-- if you don't like what you do, you're unhappy because your work consumes so much of your life. But also, promise me that you will work for peace and be-- give your life something extra. And that is being a good citizen, vote, make our leadership much more responsive to the people.
SPEAKER 1: What is the greatest challenge you faced over the course of your career?
HELEN THOMAS: I think--
SPEAKER 1: And take a moment.
HELEN THOMAS: --you know, when you have one chance in the barrel to ask the president of the United States a question, you really-- that is a big challenge, because you want to make it good. You want to make it have meaning. So I did stay up a few nights trying to think, how can I get them now?
That's a challenge.
SPEAKER 1: What did your parents say when you decided to become a reporter?
HELEN THOMAS: I had wonderful parents. They couldn't read or write. Nine children. They put them all through college. They knew the value of education was everything, and they let us each be what we wanted to be.
And it was an era-- and a lot of women here-- it was an era when women going to college were being steered into being teachers or nurses because of the security aspect. I didn't know it was a man's world till I went into the man's world. And then I thought, what the hell.
SPEAKER 1: Besides presidents and their spokespeople, who or what have been your best sources of information? If you're allowed to say.
HELEN THOMAS: Oh, god. I wish I-- I didn't get many leads, and I love whistle blowers, though I didn't know too many. I must say that when you're on the body watch for a wire service, you don't have much time to cultivate others. You're just watching the president.
But you do have access. I mean, we used to walk round and round during the Vietnam War with LBJ. Round and round the South Lawn, and we called them the Bataan Death Marches. But during that time, we saw a president agonize before our very eyes. Let his hair down, tell us things.
So we had a proximity to presidents who really knew what they were going through in the old days, before they were surrounded by a cordon of security everywhere. So we-- I got to know Kennedy, I thought, pretty well. I mean, you know, superficially. We have our nose against the window pane, little match girl. But actually, you do see them in different-- I think we're very privileged in that respect.
SPEAKER 1: What techniques do you use to contain your disbelief, to contain your disbelief, perhaps, when you're at press conferences?
HELEN THOMAS: I don't want to contain it.
Why should I? I think that you have to-- I mean, I am a cynic with hope. I do think that we should certainly question everything. We should ask, why?
SPEAKER 1: Who is your next choice for the next president of the United States?
HELEN THOMAS: I honestly don't know. I think it's very hard to tell. There are so many candidates out there. But I think it'll be a Democrat.
How many mistakes can you make?
SPEAKER 1: And lastly, Ms. Thomas, what advice-- this is similar, but what advice would you give a grandchild if they were just starting out in this world today?
HELEN THOMAS: [INAUDIBLE]
SPEAKER 1: A grandchild who was just starting out in this world today.
HELEN THOMAS: Live a great life. Know who you are. Know when you're happy. And give something back to the world.
SPEAKER 1: Thank you. Once again, Helen Thomas!
HELEN THOMAS: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you all for coming. It's so kind. Thank you.
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In her lecture, Helen Thomas recalls highlights from her six-decade career as a journalist, joining United Press International's Washington bureau in 1943 and covering nine consecutive presidents from John F. Kennedy—when she became the first woman to join the White House press corps in 1961—to George W. Bush.