Helen Thomas Recollections, 9/11/02. Tape 1 of 1.

Helen Thomas Recollections, 9/11/02. Tape 1 of 1.

BBE today is Helen Thomas who for many many years was Dean of the new White House press corps working at that time for United Press International she is now a columnist for Hearst publications and a damn good one thanks big thing is that I always thought of the family and the date is September the 11th the notorious September the 11th and Helen as I had told you what we're now doing is trying to build a whole body of video recollections and reminiscences of Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird and you might I don't know what you have in mind but you might start out by talking about if you remember the first time you ever saw him well the first time I ever saw him was when I interviewed him as a member of the House naval Affairs Committee so it when he was a congressman and later on as a senator I must say that he was very supportive of women's reporters and the Women's National Press Club at that time we couldn't get into the National Press Club so we had a very active Women's Press Club and I think at the behest of Liz carpenter and maybe even Sarah McClendon the two Texas women news women he got very supportive of us showed up at a lot of our function social functions and so forth so LBJ was very much in the picture for me from the 50s on and then he when he became Senate Majority Leader in the 50s I was very watching very closely when he helped Eisenhower get the first civil rights act through we thought it was 57 I think and it was very watered down but at the same time we know that there wouldn't have been any civil rights act if if it had been left Eisenhower who didn't even want to send troops to Little Rock to desegregate so I had a certainly an impression of him as a man of compassion that never left me and think that he really cared about people at the same time he was very manipulative pronounce the word in terms of the lawmakers he knew where all the bodies were buried he knew every man's price and as a consequence that served him in good stead I think to get a lot of legislation through that never would have passed so we thought of I thought of him as an operator but a very effective one and for a lot of the right causes and I think I could speak for any reporter in the terms that he probably is the most colorful president we ever covered I mean he was totally unpredictable and yet predictable in a way and very impromptu acting on impulse but good impulses really had a big heart in a sense and I really think that he always wanted to do the right thing he coveted the presidency and when he took over he was the right man to step into the shoes after the assassination of burthen Kennedy just one other point I wanted to really stress is that no reporter in Washington or whoever covered the White House has ever had as much access to a president where you could walk down the street with him two or three times say he invited me into his limousine to take a ride to a certain place where he was going to speak and maybe the my AP competitor also I mean I can assure you that never happened before and has never happened since well usually wire services and I worked for your PI at that time would would be invited in together and many times it was he would designate the session as off-the-record at the same time you knew then he wanted you get the word out Carl Bauman of the AP and myself shortly after President Johnson became president we're covering president at church at I think it was Fredericksburg or one of the places that we made the round three three church services on Sunday but he invited us to the ranch and he really invited us so that we could fire the whole cabinet that kennedy cabinet say that you know the president was looking for the resignations which was very pro forma on his desk from the cabinet to the kennedy cabinet but he didn't want us to have a Texas state line and he didn't want to say what our source was and we did so we really fired the whole cabinet from Washington we knew it was a thought authentic you know and so forth but I've always had a little bit of qualms about that how deceptive can you get at the same time he called the called Secretary Dean of State Dean Rusk that this doesn't mean you when you read this story doesn't mean you the same thing with McNamara with Secretary of Defense so he separated the mana assured them that this story only met certain ya know the games we play well nine now giant on domestic affairs probably the most effective on the domestic side the Great Society which was the greatest contribution to social welfare in the last 50 years of the 20th century where Roosevelt I consider was tremendous leader through the Great Depression World War 2 and also reforming our in terms of trying to bring in regulation of the stock market and the banks giving us some sort of a cushion that we wouldn't have that kind of debacle again so and then you know we had Hart then and we don't have it now right I hated the Vietnam War from the 40s because I truly believe during World War two I believe Churchill and I believed FDR when they really told the colonial areas you support us in this war against the great against Hitler and so forth and we will help you reach your nationalistic aims instead after World War two we allowed the British and the French to reoccupy all these colonial areas including Indochina at the time of DN Bien Phu I mean it was certainly a debacle I was covering I wasn't covering I was doing filing a wire in Washington when vice president then Richard Nixon and some of the top generals and admirals got together at Blair House and Nixon proposed dropping the atomic bomb to help the the nuclear bomb to help the French at the NBN Phu Phu and they were so beleaguered and fortunately Eisenhower put his foot down but I thought this is horrible then there was peace yeah because the French was drew they were defeated and the West wasn't going to tolerate that Eisenhower had promised Cardinal Spellman I'm really you know kaleidoscope in a very important phase of history but in effect we promised the South Vietnamese that we would protect their sovereignty and so forth and that was the start of getting involved in in the Vietnam War I thought hoshii mean we should have helped him with this nationalistic aim during World War two he wrote to FDR many times begging for support for his movement and also to Churchill and when he was rejected he went to Moscow for help and then became a solid I guess communists so so many there were so many it might have been expected but I never thought that we should go in and pick up the pieces especially when when the French and the Chinese and the Vietnamese were in Geneva to sign this peace agreement and John Foster Dulles was there representing the United States he refused to shake hands with the Chinese and we refused to really accept that peace agreement and then we started to pick up the pieces thinking there was a vacuum there that we had to support this and then develop the the domino theory that if you let Vietnam go then Cambodia go and Louis and everything else and so everything I mean it's a whole kaleidoscope as I say of mistakes but I thought it was wrong for us to go into Vietnam I certainly thought it was wrong for Kennedy to send military advisers and then when President Johnson promised in 1964 that he was not going to send the American boys to do the job that the Asian boys should do I'm paraphrasing but basically people thought well Goldwater is the hawk I mean he's going to lob one into the men's room of the Kremlin and he's going to push the button start World War three well it turned out that Johnson apparently had a plan to go into Vietnam and to really build up the structure but I think he was always told by the generals and by even our great pundits that this is a war that could be won easily I said I think it was just so horrendous for me because I could see that it was wrong wrong wrong unless you dropped the big bomb there was no way because it reminded me of a cartoon from the Korean War knew Yorker cartoon GI Joe looking very muddied stick his head up from the foxholes pal he's tasking his pal how do you tell us South Korea from a North Korean and this is the life I felt that the Vietnamese had Vietcong had so infiltrated they worked in the offices in Saigon and so forth there was no wait to to win this war unless you were really the scorched earth so I was in real pain that for our involvement because I not only thought it was wrong to be there I also thought of the terrible price that you couldn't win really unless you wasn't all out of salt and and gradually the American people began to feel that it was a no no-win proposition and and they hit the streets and they hit the bricks and they took down the Johnson presidency and it had done so so much good but there's no question the Vietnam as he told Walter Cronkite at after he left the White House President Johnson told Walter Cronkite in the first interview he gave as a past president that it was the Vietnam War coming into everyone's living room every night that really hurt his presidency the most since you covered LBJ throughout the whole five years of his administration you had some contact with each one of his press secretaries how would you give us a feeling about how you work with them and how you what do you thought what do you thought about all of them well I thought that he had no real rapport with Pierre Pierre Salinger who was that he the press secretary and he inherited so that was soon demolished I don't first place I didn't think that Johnson could tolerate any press secretary because he didn't like anyone speaking for him but he did I think he had the best relationship with George Christian I think they were on the same wavelength and George Christian understood him maybe text seven and so forth but then George ridi ridi was the first he had been a UPI reporter and he covered the house when Johnson was congressman and he really became came to admire Johnson so much for his the power of his personality and what he was trying to accomplish and really was the first person who ever told me that Lyndon Johnson was going to become president and I laughed in his face because I didn't didn't think that was possible considering the stories we had heard about Johnson and so forth and he was very devoted to Johnson but and he was first on board when when Johnson became president but when he became his press secretary really buckled under those phone calls from POTUS the President of the United States when Reedy would be briefing us in his office all of a sudden the phone would ring and we could see him shaking I mean as his pipe and so forth because we know he was going to get the riot act because Johnson apparently was listening in to the to the whole briefing and why are they asking that and so forth and so I think that you know I don't think that Johnson ever really felt that any press secretary was adequate but one thing he was never vindictive when he got rid of a press secretary he they usually got better jobs at the behest of Johnson who took care of everybody in terms of well what he did to Jack Valenti wasn't lessons press secretary but he insured him a lifetime multi-million dollar job with the American Motion Picture Association he helped really as he was easy him out hammertoes or whatever to become spokesman for one of the union's labor and in terms of bill moyers she got rid of him Nathan helped make him publisher of Newsday and then there were a couple of others but so he treated everybody well as he wanted to get rid of them he made sure they didn't land in the streets right Liz carpenter was very impressed secretary but you developed a me oh yes I mean well I knew her from the days from the forties when we were both knocking on doors at the national press building trying to become reporters in Washington so and we both got jobs because they were drafting every young man in World War two who had a who could breathe if he had a pulse he was going to war and suddenly some slots opened up for women they had to hire us on the newspapers well I think that she's probably the the greatest press first lady I ever covered because she had really great goals for the country I think she transformed this land that we love but you can't I go to Washington spring a fall or any other time when you don't see the plantings a belief in our country the environment and so forth I seen she planted the seeds I went to the first head start classes with her where we learned that these poverty-stricken kids some of them had never seen a book before I've never seen a chair before I mean she educated us and I'm not the outdoor girl but I climbed every mountain Ford every stream with her much to my distress we all wound up going down the Snake River riding the and me I don't swim even and there's a photograph of all of us in these rubber rafts going down the Snake River and it's in Sports Illustrated and the most miserable-looking person on the raft with me she was my she's wonderful and I think the fact that she's always continued in her her work for the beautification of the country and all the right causes never ended even after she left the White House were you at the LBJ Ranch many times several times sometimes it gets my will but no I mean Johnson liked people and he was a people person sometimes reporters became people who were the only ones around him that he could buttonhole and pour out his troubles to which was great because we really had a feeling of what this President was thinking about there were a lot of stories at the time about his taking some reporters on a wild ride through the ranch and looking at the eyes of the deer well the reporters who were on that ride the famous ride early on his administration a claim it is true I rode on some of those Twilight rides over the ranch and and what was great is he pour me some scotch in a paper cup and we never threw it out it was all off the record oh yes sir did you at the times that you were there where did the press stay in Austin or in San Antonio we stayed in Austin till we got too many stories about people who knew Johnson and got too close to some of the people who knew him in the good old days so he decided to move us to San Antonio and we stayed at the Driskill Hotel and had a wonderful time in in Austin because the headliners Club was there we would gather there and Johnson always knew where we were and when we went to San Antonio we were not as comfortable and we stayed in a fleabag and it was not the thing he was happy to keep its further away did he ever personally berate you for any story I was in the deep freeze for a few months when I wrote that Lucy Johnson was engaged to bad news and I managed to scoop the President of the United States on his own family matter was not exactly to his liking well I got a true sources in in Austin and it came from some of her girlfriends gossiping and so forth but Johnson was very unhappy and he had his press secretaries they didn't deny anything but what they what was Moyers brother who had to face the music after I'd written the story and then they said he said President Johnson says someday when his daughter is engaged he will announce and so forth but there was no outright denial so I was out there on a limb but I began to look gold on this time for not I'm sure that he was here's – I mean he felt personally every question that was asked and he used to read the transcripts from our briefings with no president has ever bothered to do and then he would have a set the secretary for the press office write down the names of who was asking the questions and then he'd go into high dudgeon and usually read the transcripts at lunch and that would give am indigestion but oh that person that reporter he was a human being reacting did you attend both of the girls weddings yes as a guest or did you cover I covered no not again maybe an unwanted reporter yes I always felt like Johnson was listening in on conversations we always had this sense of big brother he really did care about what the reporters were saying and thinking those baton death marches around the South Lawn started out with George Reedy and so forth who couldn't quite do the walk with his toes each sort of waiting one time would pass him round and Robin and the LBJ was very sadistic on this because he'd speak in a whisper and we're all falling over each other trying to what did he say what did he say and we piled back into the press room and then try to compare notes and that people would have said it's all of the record and we knew he didn't really want it off the record we didn't want to contribute it to him so trying to sort that stuff out I was and yet we gained a lot of information from him because we it was really letting his hair down on those walks especially when he was anguished about Vietnam the telephone tapes that we have been releasing I have been asked if I was surprised at anything in them and and I was when I heard because I wasn't I wasn't working for him as early as as 64 but when I heard those early conversations between him and Senator Russell and and fun debate in which he was agonizing over the fact that he was being pulled into the war or that not that he was being pulled but the circumstances were driving Frank I didn't realize until then the depth of his feeling about it they come as a surprise to you to know that he was that unhappy that anguish early on what made me it I mean I wanted him to follow senator aiken of Vermont's advise declare a victory and leave you know unless you were going to take go for the big jump which was the bomb or try to bomb them back to the caveman's you know it was just and more and more you could see how how distressed he was and yet he couldn't quite bite the bullet of which was just leave that's what what Reagan did in via in Lebanon he silently slipped away on a weekend and everybody was very happy and believed and I do think that a President Johnson had pulled out of Vietnam that he would have certainly been reelected and I certainly believed that the country would have been relieved but he couldn't quite do that and he wrestled over the lift this problem and I think it destroyed him in the sense when it not only him but Nixon who made false promises in 1968 that he had a plan to end the war four and a half years later in the Nixon administration in the first term he was still bombing hell out of Hanoi and so there was betrayal and American people began to fee feel that it certainly in terms of the Nixon promise and Johnson became an a prisoner in the White House in the sense that hundreds of people men women children mostly women and children were marching in front of the White House and at that time it was allowed now it wouldn't be in terms of security and candle light vigils and something nothing bought violent and and you were never afraid but at the same time the protests grew and grew and grew every he couldn't go anywhere at what at the final point but aircraft carriers and an army bases and so forth that it were only the military where he would be received properly so I think it was a very very tragic time that you realize the president was became caged and the same thing happened to Nixon where they were really they made big mistakes in policy which would split the country I don't think we've ever recovered from Vietnam and I've never seen the country so divided World War Two was different there was true unity the American people realized we had to go to the Lord that we were attacked at Pearl Harbor and there were very few dissenters if any up leading up to that war yes there were in interventionists and non adventurous of course the Pearl Harbor attack everybody was solidly behind the war except for the true conscientious objectors read religious qualms or whatever not to not to go to war and some of them became medics who were unarmed but you had a different feeling about that war we were all in it together that was worth in his sacrifice in terms of Vietnam and the country really really turned off was turned off and they realized that it was not worth the candle back to the ranch did you ever meet president's cousin Oriole yes I did I loved her she was really a wise woman well I think she real that President Johnson loved her I mean I think he went to her for a sole renewal they would take the reporters down to her cabin her house which was on the ranch and we would chat with her a while one night we knocked on her door I've written about this and she it was about nine o'clock or a little later and she came to the door bare and bare feet and so forth and and we met her and liked her very much but I wrote this piece about Johnson taking us to her ramshackle house and that she came bare her foot to the door to greet us and so foot and she later when she read the story she was in high dudgeon she said does helen thomas go to sleep with her shoes on but i did get a new paint job for her house johnson wrote me a note how how offended he was and so forth but he said as a consequence I'd I'm going to cut Nouriel to have a new house and so I thought I did some good with my destructive story before we something about you personally you after all those years in the front lines you're now you've got a cushy job and very cushy it's painful you just miss being in the I do go to the briefings I still go every day when I'm in Washington and I still tilt with the press secretaries but I think it's very important and I think that the reporters now are not as pushy inquiring determined I mean they've really really rolled over with 911 and I think they've played dead too long fearful that they would be called unpatriotic these briefings at the White House are televised so the whole idea is your bosses are watching so don't ask questions that might rock the boat and the American people won't like it because they think you're jeopardizing the troops wherever they are so as a consequence I think that you don't have the same hard driving questions which have to be asked so I consider myself the remnant of the past into I think the question should be asked and they're getting away with a lot because they should be questioned the very fact that you have a President of the United States who has never asked why who doesn't want an investigation of what is terrorism what is the cause of it what are they aiming for why and so forth I mean world war two we had the Pearl Harbor investigation I'll grant you afterwards but you certainly have to get two root causes and you have an administration that really doesn't want you to know anything they're there even polygraphing giving lie detectors to members on the hill who learned that the National Security Agency had big warnings on September 10th that something was about to happen and so forth and they delayed translating these messages for two days and meanwhile we had the debacle when we're not supposed to know that I think we should know much more almost everything I mean the truth won't hurt us but lies do Oh


10 thoughts on “Helen Thomas Recollections, 9/11/02. Tape 1 of 1.”

  • gardensofthegods says:

    Could you please explain to me why you disable the comments for the Recollections of Walter Cronkite ?

    I have to wonder if it's because they don't want people making comments about the part at 6:02 where he talks about Johnson sometimes picking up grown men by their lapels and holding them up to his face if he had a problem with you.


  • William Shanley says:

    Secretary of Ink, Dean of the White House Press Corps, "What's you lede, Helen?" called the out pack on Jimmy Carter's Peanut One press plane on the 1976 campaign. Helen Thomas, American Icon, was a Great Lady, a Super Woman who was a flesh and blood embodiment of "truth, justice and the American Way." Thank you so much LBJ Library for publishing this powerfully insightful interview this Great American hero.

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