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Tufts E-News: Helen Thomas Talks At Tufts

Tufts E-News: Helen Thomas Talks At TuftsLong-Time White House Reporter And Legend Talks About Presidential Politics From JFK To Clinton.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.31.01] "Time will judge Bill Clinton favorably and by his many accomplishments," predicts Helen Thomas, "but history will also remember 2000 as the year the U.S. Supreme Court tarnished its halo."

Thomas, a Hearst Newspapers columnist who served for decades as White House correspondent and bureau chief for United Press International, addressed a Tufts University audience Tuesday on Washington politics, women in journalism and the presidency. The event was part of this year's Tufts Lecture Series which offers lectures by influential women.

Thomas provided insights and revelations on the presidents she covered--from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton--and provided her take on the 2000 election and the early initiatives of the George W. Bush administration.

She criticized Bush for "chipping away at the wall between church and state that has served our country so well throughout its history," referring to the president's proposal to provide funding to religious organizations that deliver community services.

"This sends our country down a path that has proved so dangerous to the many societies where politics and organized religion have met," she said. "If enough people get mad enough about this, there may still be time to protect our country's future."

She also expressed her concern that many of the economic successes achieved by Clinton and his advisers "may be undone by the new administration...taking pages out of Ronald Reagan's play book."

In shedding light on scandals that have rocked the Oval Office during her years in Washington--Watergate, Monica Lewinsky and the Iran-Contra affair among others--she lauded her counterparts on both sides of the podium.

Marlin Fitzwater was perhaps the finest White House spokesman, she said. "He had direct access to the president, and we knew he could get the word right from the horse's mouth," she said. "Pierre Salinger also did a great job."

Thomas championed the White House press conference as an "indispensable" American institution.

"It is the only method by which the president can be questioned and held accountable," she said, "and it helps the press in our role as the watchdogs of democracy."

Thomas allowed that the media can sometimes go too far in pursuing stories about the personal lives of politicians.

"Our role is to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable," she joked. But the ongoing scrutiny by reporters and the rapid pace of new media technology may cause second thoughts among would-be politicians.

"If you aspire to public office, I advise you to start your career at the age of five and live accordingly," she said.

As one of the first women to play a leading role in the White House Press Corps, Thomas offered that she had witnessed much progress in the role of women in journalism and in politics.

"But I'd still like to see more women in Congress," she said.

"There is no doubt in my mind that we will see a woman as president of our country in the early part of this century," she said. "The time has come."

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