Traditionally, for about 40 years, Thomas sat in the front row and asked the first question during White House press conferences, but according to Thomas in a 2006 Daily Show interview, this ended because she no longer represents a wire service.
Thomas has since been moved to the back row during press conferences, although she still sits in the front row during press briefings. She is called upon at briefings on a daily basis but no longer ends Presidential news conferences saying "Thank you, Mr. President".
When asked why she is now seated in the back row, she said, "Because they don't like me... I ask too many questions."
On March 21, 2006, Thomas was called upon directly by President Bush for the first time in three years. Thomas asked Bush about the war in Iraq:
“ I'd like to ask you, Mr. President, your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is: Why did you really want to go to war? From the moment you stepped into the White House, from your Cabinet—your Cabinet officers, intelligence people, and so forth—what was your real reason? You have said it wasn't oil—quest for oil, it hasn't been Israel, or anything else. What was it? ”
Bush responded by discussing the overall "war on terror", and stated as a reason for the invasion, that Saddam Hussein chose to deny inspectors and not to disclose.
Thomas was criticized by conservative commentators for her exchange with Bush AND FOR ASKING REAL JOURNALISTIC QUESTIONS all other press sheep would never ask the Emperor George Bush.
After a speech at a Society of Professional Journalists banquet, she told an autograph-seeker who asked why she was sad, "I'm covering the worst president in American history." The autograph seeker was a sports writer for the Daily Breeze and her comments were published.
After she was not called upon during a press conference for the first time in over four decades, she wrote to the president to apologize. She also told 'The Hill' "The day Dick Cheney is going to run for president, I'll kill myself. All we need is another liar... I think he'd like to run, but it would be a sad day for the country if he does."
At a student journalism conference hosted by the Center for American Progress on June 2, 2006, Thomas opined that many journalists did not give accurate, critical reports on the Iraq War. She said she hopes for the return of hard reporting, and that the student audience should be "out on the street" doing hard reporting instead of sitting in the conference room.
At the July 18, 2006 White House press briefing, Thomas remarked, "The United States is not that helpless. It could have stopped the bombardment of Lebanon. We have that much control with the Israelis... we have gone for collective punishment against all of Lebanon and Palestine."
Press Secretary Tony Snow responded, "Thank you for the Hezbollah view."
According to Washington Post television critic Tom Shales, questions like the one above have sounded more like "tirades" and "anti-Israeli rhetoric". Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher described Shales' attack as "disturbing" and said Shales "offers no evidence".
On July 12, 2007, Thomas accused President Bush of starting the Iraq War as his "war of choice" and insisted that he alone could end it anytime he wanted to by handing it over to the United Nations.
Thomas has also been critical of the United States Congress. At a question and answer session held at Drake University on September 27, 2007, Thomas said that the "gutless wonder Congress doesn't have the courage to do what it needs to do" regarding the war.
In a press conference on November 30, 2007, Thomas questioned White House Press Secretary Dana Perino as to why Americans should depend on General David Petraeus in determining when to re-deploy U.S troops from Iraq. Perino began to answer when Thomas interjected with "You mean how many more people we kill?" Perino immediately took offense, responding, "Helen, I find it really unfortunate that you use your front row position, bestowed upon you by your colleagues, to make such statements. This is a—- it is an honor and a privilege to be in the briefing room, and to suggest that we, the United States, are killing innocent people is just absurd and very offensive."
A December 4, 2007, CNN report by Jeanne Moos showed video of a seating chart of reporters covering a press conference given by President Bush concerning reports of Iran not having pursued nuclear weapons since 2003. The spot for Thomas was crossed out with an X and she was never called upon.
Thomas developed a stomach infection in May 2008, and stopped working for several months. She was able to return to the White House on November 12, 2008.
Since the Kennedy administration, Helen Thomas has been covering the White House and she was often the first to ask a question at presidential press conferences.
On January 12, 2009 President Bush held his final press conference and Helen Thomas was not called upon to ask a question. This may be seen as a testament to the rocky relationship the administration and Helen Thomas have had for the past eight years, as well as a final snub to the reporter by the all mighty Bush.
Read Tomas' January 19 article:
Let's hope Obama doesn't blow it