Nightly News   |  July 20, 2013

Famed journalist Helen Thomas dies

Famed White House journalist Helen Thomas has died at the age of 92. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports.

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>>> helen thomas , the veteran white house correspondent, died today. she was 92. thomas was a pioneer when white house reporting was strictly a man's job. she paved the way for many other women to follow. here's nbc's andrea mitchell .

>> miss thomas has the first question tonight.

>> a policy of not bombing north vietnam may be undergoing a subtle change. what is our policy?

>> reporter: for more than half a century she was the first lady of the white house press corps , covering ten presidents, making history herself. born of lebanese immigrant parents, thomas landed a job with united press international . a pioneer woman in a man's profession, not afraid of asking pointed questions.

>> who was to blame? where does the buck stop?

>> reporter: her big break came covering jfk. closing press conferences with her trade mark , thank you, mr. president.

>> i saw mr. kennedy was really in a bind trying to answer questions, and went on and on trying to find the answer, so then i got up and i said --

>> thank you.

>> he said, thank you.

>> thank you, helen .

>> and i had taken him off the hook.

>> reporter: in 1974 she was named a bureau chief.

>> for the first time in history that a woman has been selected for that high post. congratulations.

>> reporter: in 1971 , thomas married douglas cornell at the rival associated press.

>> now, helen i know that nancy upstairs would die, she's watching on television, if i didn't call on you in that pretty red dress .

>> reporter: thomas had strong opinions.

>> clinton suffered a lot on the campaign trail, and they had a lot of chips on their shoulders about the press.

>> reporter: in later years she became even more outspoken.

>> your decision to invade iraq has caused the dearths of thousands of americans and iraqis.

>> you know, i didn't want war. to assume i wanted war is just -- is just flat wrong, helen . in all due respect.

>> reporter: no longer in daily januaryism, she drew criticism for taking sides on the israeli/ palestinian conflict . but by then she was already a legend.

>> what do you want to have said about you? in your time covering the white house ?

>> that she asked good questions. did she ask why?

>> reporter: she always had the first question and the last word leaving the rest of us to say simply, thank you, helen thomas . in a statement tonight the obamas said that what made her the dean of the press corps was her fierce belief that democracy works best when she ask tough questions and hold leaders to account. harry?

>> and i know she was your dear friend. andrea mitchell , thank you so much.