The Paly Voice

Students ask Helen Thomas the questions


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Helen Thomas, renowned White House correspondent and columnist, spoke to Paly students about politics, government and journalism in a question and answer session via telephone during lunch on Monday, Dec. 5 in room 308.

Thomas, who is considered by many to be the “First Lady of the Press,” spoke not only about her critique on the war in Iraq and the current administration, but her views on the press and journalism as well.

History teacher David Rapaport organized and moderated the event, which attracted over 30 students and several teachers. Rapaport was able to arrange the session after having kept up an email correspondence with Thomas following a similar conference held for middle school students several years ago.

“I am very fortunate to have made her acquaintance,” he said.

During the session, students were able to pose questions for Thomas to answer.

Several questions at the start concerned Thomas’s views on a journalist’s role in society.

“The holy grail of journalism is truth,” she said. “Our job is to find out what [the government] is up to.”

Thomas was also asked about her well-known provocative and straight-forward questioning style.

“Public servants have to be accountable for what they do,” she stated. “I am very challenging, but we don’t go into journalism to be liked.”

She also gave student journalists some advice on how to prepare for the job.

“I read every newspaper in sight,” Thomas said. “I try to stay on top of the news.

“You should ask questions, but do so courteously. Don’t compromise your personality,” she advised.

She believes that it is imperative for high school students to have a deep grasp of United States history as well.

“I have been appalled at the number of reporters who don’t understand U.S. history,” Thomas said.

In terms of how the press decides what is worth being written about, “whatever a President says and does is covered,” she said.

One student asked Thomas, who has thus far covered nine administrations throughout her career, which president she thought was most inspiring.

“Kennedy,” she responded. “He had great goals.”

Thomas also explained that, at the start of her career, “Presidents were more accessible.”

“The press corps has grown by leaps and bounds,” she said. “We used to walk down the street with [Jimmy] Carter or [John F.] Kennedy. We were able to chat with them. … Now, there is so much security surrounding a president.”

Several students’ queries concerned politics and Thomas’s opinions on current events.

Specifically, one student asked who Thomas predicts will make it to the ballot for the election in 2008.

Thomas said she expects to see Hillary Clinton for the Democratic candidate, but as for the Republican ticket, she said it may be between several people, most notably Dick Cheney or John McCain.

Wrapping up the event, one student asked, “Which do you prefer more, answering questions or asking them?”

To this, Thomas responded decisively, “I’d rather ask the questions.”

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