On this date in 1921, White House Correspondent Helen Thomas was born in Kentucky, although she grew up in Detroit. Dubbed "the grande dame" of journalism, Helen Thomas has been called "the first woman of journalism" as a White House correspondent for more than 40 years, who opened so many doors for women in journalism. She joined UPI in 1943 as a radio and news writer covering government. Helen Thomas was permanently assigned to the White House in 1961, becoming the first woman White House Correspondent. She has written two books about her experiences as fearless White House correspondent. A colleague who interviewed Fidel Castro once asked Castro what is the biggest difference between being president of Cuba and being president of the United States. Castro replied without hesitation: "I don't have to answer questions from Helen Thomas." In 2000, Ms. Thomas resigned from UPI after it was purchased by the Unification Church. That year she became a columnist for Hearst Newspapers, and "has been tenacious and unrelenting in her condemnation of faith-based funding schemes, of our 180-degree changes in foreign policy to endorse preemptive strikes, of the war and of the secrecy and unanswered questions behind the war. Helen Thomas could be resting on her laurels; instead she is plunging into the fray, as the conscience of Washington, D.C.," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, of the Foundation, in granting her a "Friend of Freedom" award at the Foundation's 2003 convention.
"When she called to accept our invitation, Ms. Thomas wanted the Foundation to know that she describes herself as a non-denominational believer. The reason we want to recognize her is precisely because she is such an ardent believer . . . in the separation of church and state, the Bill of Rights, our U.S. Constitution, the rule of law, open government, patriotic dissent and all the best ideals behind the United States of America," Gaylor added. At the very first press conference Pres. George W. Bush held, in February 2002, Helen Thomas went right to the point, in asking him about his new "faith-based initiative" to grant public dollars to religious charities:
Helen Thomas: Mr. President, why do you refuse to respect the wall between the church and the state? And you know that the mixing of religion and government for centuries has led to slaughter. I mean, the very fact that our country has stood in good stead by having the separation—why do you break it down?
Pres. Bush: Helen, I strongly respect the separation of church and state—
Thomas: Well, you wouldn't have a religious office in the White House if you did . . . You are a secular official. And not a missionary.