It was a Helen Thomas lovefest at the National Press Club Wednesday night. The journalism elite convened to watch an advance screening of Rory Kennedy’s documentary on the venerable White House reporter, who has covered nine(!) presidents from her front-row seat in the White House press room since 1961. “Thank You Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House” is a breezy, light-hearted interview with the news legend; the frequently outspoken correspondent reflects candidly on the people and events she witnessed covering the highest office of the United States: Vietnam, Watergate, and even what she says was Reagan’s inability to answer a question without the consent of his “troika”—Ed Meese, Mike Deaver, and James Baker III. The audience erupted in laughter several times, but the documentary is really must-see for the brief exchange Kennedy and Thomas have on the latter’s sex appeal. Let’s just say it casts the perpetual Bill O’Reilly target (see her remark, “The day Dick Cheney is going to run for president, I’ll kill myself”) in a more endearing light.
Following the screening, ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz hosted a panel discussion with her CBS colleague Bill Plante and former White House press secretaries Marlin Fitzwater and Joe Lockhart. Fitzwater amused the audience by recalling a time Nancy Reagan “saved” Thomas from death-by-stampede during a crowd-control situation in Communist Russia, but the conversation eventually devolved into a rebuke of the current administration’s lack of cooperation with the press. Thomas, who could not attend the event due to an illness, would have been proud.
“Thank You Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House” premieres August 18 on HBO at 9 PM.