A long-running Washington tradition apparently ended last night when, for the first time in memory, the doyenne of the White House press corps was not called on in a presidential press conference.
Syndicated columnist Helen Thomas, who has covered every president since John F. Kennedy, was relegated to the third row in last night's East Room event and — if the memory of press corps veterans is accurate — received her first presidential snub.
One reporter who has covered the past six presidents said: "I don't remember a press conference in which [Mrs. Thomas] didn't get a question."
For many years, it was a tradition for Mrs. Thomas to ask the first question at White House news conferences and end them by saying, on behalf of the press corps, "Thank you, Mr. President." However, in recent years, her influence has waned — although she was still afforded one of the first questions and continues to enjoy a front-row seat at regular White House briefings.
For four decades the White House correspondent for United Press International, Mrs. Thomas, 82, has in recent months harangued Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer, asking how President Bush can slaughter innocent Iraqis in a quest for oil.
Now syndicated by Hearst Newspapers, Mrs. Thomas has also denounced Mr. Bush outside the confines of the White House briefing room. "This is the worst president ever," Mrs. Thomas told the Daily Breeze of Torrance, Calif., in January. "He is the worst president in all of American history."
Also snubbed by Mr. Bush at last night's news conference was Mike Allen of The Washington Post, the second consecutive time that the president has skipped over The Post's correspondent, who was seated last night in the front row.
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