CBS’s Smith: ‘Legendary’ Helen Thomas Has Done ‘Extraordinary Work’

Harry Smith, CBS Near the end of Thursday’s CBS Early Show, co-host Harry Smith talked to film maker Rory Kennedy about her latest documentary on the career of left-wing White House reporter Helen Thomas: "We're going to talk to Rory Kennedy, director of a new documentary about the legendary journalist." Smith began the segment by declaring: "Veteran print journalist Helen Thomas has been covering the White House since 1961, when John F. Kennedy was president. And now there's a new documentary honoring her decades of extraordinary work, called, ‘Thank You, Mr. President.’"

Smith asked Kennedy, the daughter of Robert Kennedy, about her decision to do the documentary: "Why pick Helen Thomas?" Kennedy replied: "She's been covering nine administrations, she's been at the front row of the White House. And she has extraordinary insight into these presidents. And she's also an extraordinary journalist." Smith later commented: "Where she sits and what she does day after day after day, I'm not sure we value enough."

Some of Thomas’s "value" and "extraordinary work" can be seen by her comments in 2002 while speaking at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: "I censored myself for 50 years....Now I wake up and ask myself, ‘Who do I hate today?’...I have never covered a President who actually wanted to go to war. Bush’s policy of pre-emptive war is immoral – such a policy would legitimize Pearl Harbor. It’s as if they learned none of the lessons from Vietnam....Where is the outrage?" In 2003, Thomas remarked at a Society for Professional Journalism banquet that: "This is the worst President ever. He [George W. Bush] is the worst President in all of American history."

Kennedy went on to describe how Thomas is a "hero" to many, even Republicans: "there's really a sense that she's a hero for asking those tough questions. I remember talking to a man who worked at Homeland Security. He said ‘You know, I've been a Republican all my life’ and he went up to Helen and he said ‘you're my hero...you keep asking those questions and nobody else is doing it in the same way and thank you.’" Smith added that: "Such a huge responsibility that she takes so, so seriously and as seriously now as when she first walked in the White House almost 50 years ago."

The Media Research Center documented Thomas’s long history of liberal bias in the Media Reality Check in 2000. Also, MRC president and publisher of NewsBusters, Brent Bozell, wrote a column in 2006 on Thomas criticizing the press corps for its "naive complicity" in helping the Bush Administration "rush to war" in Iraq.

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

8:30AM TEASER:

HARRY SMITH: Helen Thomas has been covering the White House forever, almost 50 years now. We're going to talk to Rory Kennedy, director of a new documentary about the legendary journalist and about her time growing up in the Kennedy clan.

8:39AM TEASER:

SMITH: And we're going to meet Rory Kennedy, director of a documentary on the life of journalist Helen Thomas.

8:45AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: Veteran print journalist Helen Thomas has been covering the White House since 1961, when John F. Kennedy was president. And now there's a new documentary honoring her decades of extraordinary work, called, 'Thank You, Mr. President.'

HELEN THOMAS: I was the first woman to open and close a news conference. First time was to be about a half hour and I could see President Kennedy was struggling. So finally I got up and I said, 'thank you, Mr. President.' So I got him off the hook. Mr. President, thank you.

JOHN F. KENNEDY: Thank you Helen.

SMITH: [Laughter] And joining us, the documentary's director Rory Kennedy, who also happens to be President Kennedy's niece. Good morning.

RORY KENNEDY: Good morning.

SMITH: You've done such extraordinary work in your time as a director and producer of all kinds of films, documentary and others. Why pick Helen Thomas?

KENNEDY: Well, I think she has a life worth documenting. She's been covering nine administrations, she's been at the front row of the White House. And she has extraordinary insight into these presidents. And she's also an extraordinary journalist.

SMITH: And what a story, her parents barely spoke English. Were they Lebanese?

KENNEDY: That's right. They were from Lebanon, they were illiterate and they moved to Detroit. She grew up there and then she moved to Washington, she didn't know anybody there. And she was really determined to be a journalist at a time where there were very few women journalists.

SMITH: Yeah. Where she sits and what she does day after day after day, I'm not sure we value enough.

KENNEDY: I think that's true. But I think, you know, going -- making this documentary with Helen, walking in the streets of Washington, D.C., there's really a sense that she's a hero for asking those tough questions. I remember talking to a man who worked at Homeland Security. He said 'You know, I've been a Republican all my life' and he went up to Helen and he said 'you're my hero'-

SMITH: Wow.

KENNEDY: -'you keep asking those questions and nobody else is doing it in the same way and thank you.' And I think Helen has as sense that, you know, she is representing journalists who need to ask those questions and democracy doesn't work as well without our journalists asking those questions for us.

SMITH: Such a huge responsibility that she takes so, so seriously and as seriously now as when she first walked in the White House almost 50 years ago.

KENNEDY: Absolutely. Absolutely. She's really dedicated her entire life to this mission, which is informing -- informing the public about what's going on.

SMITH: Yeah. Such an important story to tell. A couple of other questions very quickly. How's Uncle Ted?

KENNEDY: Thank you for asking. He's doing great. He's just got a fighting spirit. I just spoke to him a couple days ago and he's just extraordinary.

SMITH: Yeah, and has your cousin Caroline told you who the veep is going to be for Barack Obama?

KENNEDY: What do you think? What do you think?

SMITH: Show me the email, I want to see your Blackberry.

KENNEDY: I tried to get it from her but she's very tight-lipped about this stuff.

SMITH: Well, and it is 2008 and we have spent some time this summer remembering Bobby Kennedy and-

KENNEDY: Yes.

SMITH: Very, very, very powerful stuff.

KENNEDY: Yes. It's been an important time, I think, for reflection and -- but we're very excited about the Triborough Bridge being named-

SMITH: The naming of the Triborough Bridge-

KENNEDY: -after my father. And so it's also an exciting time.

SMITH: Yeah. Great to see you, as always.

KENNEDY: Okay.

SMITH: Thank you so much.

KENNEDY: Thanks for having me on.

SMITH: And we look forward to seeing the film.

KENNEDY: Thank you.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC