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Journalist, congresswoman share insights into Washington

Nationally renowned journalist Helen Thomas recently joined Congresswoman Barbara Lee at Mills College for a discussion of presidential politics.

Helen Thomas, at the reception before the conversation. (Melodie Miu)
Helen Thomas, at the reception before the conversation. (Melodie Miu)

Thomas came to campus Oct. 12 as part of her national book tour for Listen Up, Mr. President: Everything You Always Wanted Your President to Know and Do, coauthored with Craig Crawford.

The night’s activities began with a reception in the Lorry I. Lokey Graduate School of Business gathering hall. Mills faculty, staff, students, alumni and Bay Area journalists were all invited to attend the reception.
At the reception, Mills alum Kate Sanborn weighed in on Thomas.

“Helen Thomas is a role model, an icon; an example – really for all women – about what getting to the top of your profession really means,” said Sanborn.

Following the reception was a conversation on stage at the Littlefield Concert Hall, hosted by President Janet Holmgren. They discussed everything from Thomas’ history in journalism to the current policy issues making headlines nationwide.

Taking the stage, both women were greeted by a standing ovation from the audience. Thomas responded to Holmgren’s introduction of herself avidly, as if she was sitting in the front row of the White House press room.

“I’m very happy to be here. I want to get out of the war. I want Congress to pass the public option. I want the president to live up to his Nobel Peace Prize,” she said, unabashadly proud of her liberal.

Both Lee and Thomas drew cheers and laughter as they highlighted their roles as powerful female leaders. Lee was quick to point out her admiration for Thomas who was sitting next to her.

“There is nothing like the phenomenal Mills women here tonight to greet Helen. After listening to her opening statement, you know why I love her. That’s the woman who set the standard for those of us in elected office, those who are in journalism,” said Lee.

Thomas spoke of her love for the job – of asking tough questions of public officials in power.

“Hell no, I never get bored. Presidents should be challenged, early and often. That is what democracy is all about. I like to think that we are asking questions that represent the public,” said Thomas, who is currently a columnist for Hearst newspapers.

When Holmgren asked what prompted Thomas to be involved in political life, she responded humorously, “Nosiness.”

Thomas also spoke about her thoughts on a sign of hopeful change. “Having a black president, this was dramatic, he crossed the color line.”

But even with Barack Obama’s popularity, Thomas said he “needs some more courage. I do think he has a good conscience.”

Her advice to the sitting president? “Stand up for what you said in the campaign. Trust the American people and tell them the truth. They can handle it.”

Thomas said she refuses to give any significant reverence to any president.

“They work for us – we pay them,” she said. “I really think all public servants should know that. So I have to say that I am in awe of the office but I do resent the fact that presidents think that information, that I believe belongs in the public domain, becomes a private reserve. Every president is so secretive and I think they keep us from knowing everything that we should know. Our lives depend on it.”

Lee also weighed in. “We are at a defining moment. What we are seeing is very little bi-partisanship because the other side refuses to play. We must do it ourselves,” she said.

A book signing followed after the event, in which Lee also signed copies of Renegade of Peace and Justice.

Debbie Barragan contributed to this report.