Helen Thomas has been a thorn in the side of the president (any president) for over forty years. She joined the White House press corps during the Kennedy administration and has asked many tough questions over the years as a senior correspondent for United Press International. She now writes a syndicated column for Hearst newspapers. As a reporter she has always sought the truth.
In Watchdog of Democracy?, Thomas turns her attention to her colleagues in print and broadcast journalism and critiques their timid post-9/11 performance. According to the author, the press has failed the American public by not asking the president and his administration difficult questions. They have too often accepted presidential pronouncements as stated, not probing the weak spots, not wanting to appear unpatriotic and lose access to their White House sources.
Thomas reviews media performance after the terrorist attacks of 2001 and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. She claims that news reporting has been reined in by the corporations that now own the media, who are more interested in providing entertainment and profits to shareholders than reporting news. She points to the controversies over showing images of flag-draped coffins, the embedded reporters in Iraq, and the non-existent weapons of mass destruction.
In the early chapters, Thomas retells press history as she sees it, focusing on presidents, press secretaries, and White House correspondents. Baby boomers will recognize many forgotten names. She praises the work of her colleagues in releasing the Pentagon Papers and in exposing the Watergate Scandal; neither achievement would be possible today when pretty people have now taken the place of real reporters.
Helen Thomas was the closing speaker at the Public Library Association Conference in Phoenix in 2002. She is just as forthright in her books as she was live before librarians. Watchdogs of Democracy? should be in all libraries.
Thomas, Helen. Watchdogs of Democracy? The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public. New York: Scribner, 2006. ISBN 0743267818