THE BLOG
07/25/2013 11:51 am ET Updated Sep 24, 2013

Helen Thomas Pioneered and Fought to the End

White House correspondent Helen Thomas remained a perceptive and outspoken commentator nearly to the weeks before her death on July 20.

I saw this first-hand on several recent occasions at the National Press Club, where she was the first female officer after the club accepted women as members in 1971.

Profiles of her career have focused on her efforts to help female journalists overcome blatant discrimination. Largely overlooked or oversimplified was her fighting spirit on other social issues even at an advanced age and after being forced into retirement in 2010.

At the age of 92 last December, Thomas delivered a passionate, incisive lecture to a speaker society at the press club. She said the country is endangered by what she called government leaders' greed, fear, and subservience to war-mongers.

"I came here in 1943," she told her dinner audience of 30, "and I don't think I've ever seen our country so bereft of ideals and ideas. I don't see anything on the horizon that can pull us out. I hope I'm wrong."

She portrayed current leaders as weak and selfish. The self-described liberal doled out criticism to all sides.

"Republicans," she said, "have one goal: To get Obama. But when they see the country falling apart, that's all they can do?"

"As for Obama," she continued, "I think he's weak. He has no courage." She said the country urgently needs "a stand-up guy who'll do the right thing."

What are some examples?

"The first priority should be jobs." Also, "Make people pay their taxes, and stop the wars." She estimated at least 700 U.S. military bases around the world. "We're killing all of these people [in undeclared wars]. Why? Is it any surprise that people will fight back for their country? There's no doubt we want to eliminate Iran. Why wouldn't they want to defend themselves?"

She was using a wheelchair by the time of another lecture this spring at the club. I sat next to her to hear more of her perceptions from her unique vantage point at the White House for so many years. I mentioned that I was finishing Presidential Puppetry, a book to be released this summer, and that its survey of hidden factors motivating a century of the nation's chief executives tended to confirm her assessment of the current president.

Her comments about Israel during an ambush interview in 2010 prompted a protest that forced her retirement from the Hearst News Service. She apologized in a desperate but fruitless effort to keep her job, agent, and previously awarded professional honors.

A safe topic for those now summarizing her legacy is that she advocated the now-conventional wisdom that female journalists should have equal opportunity.

Beyond women's issues, Thomas was also a rare voice in the White House media for the downtrodden. Her independence was an ongoing, implicit rebuke to those who conform to a go-along, get-along mode of career-building.

Her hard-hitting comments quoted at the beginning of this column provide the kind of analysis that many in the public increasingly realize is missing from mainstream news coverage.

In comments virtually ignored by most in the U.S. media last week, former President Jimmy Carter -- the last U.S. president who was a career military officer before politics -- praised NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and said, according to a translation by Germany's largest newspaper, Der Spiegel, that the United States "has no functioning democracy."

The headlines for the Thomas obituary stress that she prevailed on women's rights. The full story is she raised common sense questions about many issues. As result, her end is not "the end."