"Legendary" liberal White House reporter (now Hearst columnist) Helen Thomas appeared on Comedy Central's "Daily Show" on Tuesday night to promote her new book attacking the rolling-over-for-Dubya-like-puppies press corps, titled "Watchdogs of Democracy?" The exchange displayed typical, hard-left Helen, laughing at the idea that President Bush has accomplished anything and asserting that we should be spreading democracy through blue jeans and rap music. (I kid you not.) Host Jon Stewart began by asking about how long she's been in the White House -- since 1961.
Stewart: "Who was your favorite?"
Thomas, with enthusiasm: "Kennedy."
Stewart, joking: "Settle down."
Thomas, repeating: "John F. Kennedy."
Stewart: "Because you felt he respected the press the most or....Or because you were taken by his charisma?"
Thomas, sounding like she was narrating a filmstrip: "I thought he was the most inspiring, I thought he left a legacy that we should always reach for the stars. He said we're go take men to the moon in a decade. He created the Peace Corps. He signed the first nuclear test ban treaty. And he stepped back from the brink during the Cuban Missile Crisis."
Stewart: "Well, this president... uh... [Thomas throws her head in the air laughing then, pounds the desk] has, if i may, if I may jump in, has taken a real stand against steroids."
He then grew a little more serious:
Stewart: “Why hasn't this president --.. because his rhetoric is high-minded in that manner. Certainly George Bush talks about democracy, and it being God's gift to humanity and all those. He has the rhetoric. What's not connecting with you?"
Thomas: "You don't spread democracy with a barrel of a gun. You can do it through ideas, raise awareness. [Loud applause.] Blue jeans, rap music. The [pulp?, it sounds like? She means pulpit, bully pulpit?] The Voice of America. Exchange students. Exchange teachers."
Stewart: "Do you think that Americans would tolerate ill-gotten means if it got us good ends? Do you think if these guys had pulled off better ends, people would not be as upset about the means?"
Thomas: "No, I don't think so because too much... too many people are dead. Too much destruction. And we're going into the fourth year of a war, and nobody can explain why."
Stewart: "Is this the saddest time for you as a White House correspondent? Has this been the toughest time."
Thomas: "It is, because I don't think we have any answers as to why we're in a war."
Then Stewart came to the touchy focus of her book, asking "Have you been disappointed I don't want to say your colleagues," since he joked she might get beaten up in the cafeteria. (As she explained, the White House press area only has vending machines.) After the joking, back to the serious point:
Stewart: "What's changed? What's different about the relationship between the White House press corps now and what it was when you felt inspired?"
Thomas: "I think that during other periods, the press has been awake to the, you know, of denying the right to know, denying the American people the right to know. I think that they rolled over and played dead because of 9/11, fear OF being called unamerican, unpatriotic and so forth. They didn't ask the challenging questions that they should have asked in the run-up to the war. They retreated and they let the country down. [Applause.]
Stewart: "Do you feel like that's always been the case? I almost wonder like would you have been more patient for this if you hadn't seen so much? If you didn't have the context around you, would you have more patience for these guys?
Thomas: "I don't think so. I think I've always been a straight shooter. I've always believed that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and those are the questions that should be asked. I could not imagine why my colleagues were not asking the obvious."
A few minutes later, after discussing Thomas sparring with new press secretary Tony Snow and how she told him he was just a "Johnny come lately," Stewart professed amazement that the Bush team might be a bit snappish with hard-charging reporters:
Stewart: "I'm used to them condescending to us as the unwashed masses, but it surprises me that they do that to the trained professionals that they have to see every day."
Thomas: "They're always in the driver's seat. I mean they're at the podium. They can cut you off and move on. They can move on to the next question."
Stewart: "Are all administrations bullies to some extent?"
Thomas: "Well, all presidents hate us. You start from there."
Stewart, after laughing out loud: "What a lovely starting point for a relationship. They all hate, but many of them respect."
Thomas: "Well I'd rather have their respect, and I really think that they understood what our job is. I do believe in the people's right to know almost everything."
Stewart: "That's a wonderful principle to stand by and you've stood by it forever and ever, and we greatly appreciate it."