Category Archives: Helen Thomas

Your Fix with Helen Thomas #4: Drones and American Warfare

As CBS’s 60 Minutes called it on Sunday, May 11th, drones are America’s new “air force.”

Funny they said that. A few weeks ago I had a conversation with Helen Thomas where she talked about the military’s use of drones. I was probing her on the defense budget – asking her how I can learn to study it well enough to know when something doesn’t add up. She told me she wasn’t an expert on budgets, but that she does know a little something about the sophistication of the weapons we are using.

After I came home to upload and watch the video, I got a little nervous. Was this kind of stuff classified? I had never heard any of it before. So I called her to make sure.

“No,” she told me, “this is all open information.”

Once again, the student had been schooled. How I love when that happens.

This video contains several references to Web sites and resources that I used to do research. All of the links can be found below. This video is available on YouTube, Yahoo! Video, Meta Cafe and Daily Motion. So get into it and pass it on.

Drones: America’s New Air Force, CBS News 60 Minutes, and CNET, May 10, 2009

Air Force to Build Up Its Drone Supply, Washington Post, March 19, 2005

Lobbying Spending Database,

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.

Your Fix with Helen Thomas #3: Israel, Expectations, Twitter

Here is the next installment. I hope you enjoy. For links to the articles relevant to the video, check out the list below.

Israel Stance Was Undoing of Nominee for Intelligence Post, New York Times

Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper
March 11, 2009


What are U.S. goals in Afghanistan?
Helen Thomas
March 12, 2009

Bush, top aides apparently home free
Helen Thomas
March 7, 2009

Thomas: Why shouldn’t Obama aim high?
Helen Thomas
February 26, 2009

Send Helen Your Questions: #AskHelen

Why use a Twitter #hash tag to funnel questions for the legendary Helen Thomas? Because it’s hip, that’s why…and because I’ll have a really enjoyable time trying to explain it to her!

erica-lectureOk ok, I’ll tell you the truth. Last night I spoke at DC Media Makers, a meet up of people who promote peer learning and digital literacy in DC. I talked for a few minutes about my work for MTV  (USTREAM caught it live) and why I needed new and compelling content to take EricaAmerica to the next level.

Helen and I have been friends for almost two years now. We see each other sporadically, normally when I call and ask for a coffee or a drink to catch up. Each time I go prepared with a list of questions spanning topics of history, war and peace, working in Washington and being the first woman in the Press Corp. In short, I don’t want to waste her time. So I am always trying to make the most of those meetings. (Check this piece out I wrote about an evening with Helen.)

So here I am, now working on a project to capture some of her thoughts, her experience and her wisdom for the Web 2.0 community. Through this video series, I hope to open up a new side for the world to see of Helen, a side that wants to explain, educate and describe what she saw over the last 60 years in Washington.

After I showed the video to the group at DC Media Makers, they had a ton of substantive ideas for me. From production to lighting to ways to crowd-source the Internet for questions, the conversation was dynamic. I always enjoy those meetings and walked away with some great ideas. Thanks to @acarvin, I am now using the #AskHelen hash tag on Twtiter to encourage people to shout out their quesitons. If you are new to the hash tag or twitter, all you need to do is include #AskHelen after your question in your Tweet. It will be funnelled into a page on Twitter that will group all of the questions together.

Let’s see if it works!


Helen Thomas Will Now Take Your Questions

Tonight I went over to Hearst, where Helen writes her weekly column, to talk. I told her ahead of time I had some questions and she sounded excited. “Sounds good,” she said. “I’ll see you at 5:30.”

What came of the conversation is the pilot episode for Your Fix with Helen Thomas. Enjoy and let me know what you think. I’ll be back next week for round two.

It’s past 5:00 in Helen’s newsroom. She had a busy few weeks. She greeted the new President with a controversial question, got blasted by Bill O’Reillyand then got flowers… It hasn’t been an average week for Helen, but then again, it never is. Now, in a completely new role, Helen Thomas will take your questions.


Helen’s last two columns:

Obama Follows Some of Bush’s Footsteps February 18, 2009

Obama Learns Limits of Bipartisan Overtures February 12, 2009

Under the Gun with Helen Thomas

“Under the gun! Can’t talk. Call next week.”

That’s the voice of Helen Thomas. No, it’s not 1973, and no, Helen’s not in a bustling newsroom. Still, there’s something so retro and iconic about the way she tells me she is under the gun. It reminds me of a time when newsrooms were filled with smoke, not women, and fingers typed as fast as possible to break the next big story. 

Something I’ve learned about Helen, and is evident in this quote, is every article she works on is breaking. She writes only about what she thinks you should know. And for a person who absorbs as much intelligence — and harnesses decades of unprecedented access to power– that’s an impossibly complicated task. Yet somehow she sifts through it all — the gaggles, the memos, the talking points and the distractions.

I’m going to start something new and post her weekly columns. Though Hearst distributes it, and they own over a dozen papers (San Francisco Chornicle, San Antonio Express, Albany Times Union) it’s rare that anything but the Falls Church News Press, a small paper south of DC, runs it. And now, because what Helen knows, I think we all should, Erica-America does.

Helen Thomas: War Is Not The People’s Business

WASHINGTON — Back in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s worst days when he was grappling with the Vietnam quagmire and raucous anti-war protests at home, he said that in the big decisions about war and peace: “The people should be in on the take offs as well as the landings.”

Tell that to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who apparently could care less what Americans think — except every four years at election time.

Cheney made that clear in an intriguing interview with ABC News on his recent Middle East trip. Despite the difficulties surrounding the unprovoked U.S. invasion of Iraq five years ago, Cheney insisted, “It was the right thing to do.”

When the interviewer told him that two-thirds of Americans say the war in Iraq is not worth fighting, Cheney scoffed.

The administration would not be “blown off course by the fluctuations in public opinion polls,” he vowed.

Cheney went on to claim that Abraham Lincoln would never have succeeded in the Civil War if he had paid attention to polls.

White House press secretary Dana Perino later indicated that Bush was on the same page.

Asked about Cheney’s remarks to ABC, Perino said the Bush administration realizes its popularity polls are very low (30 percent) “but largely that’s because of people being unhappy about the war, about the fact that it has gone on five years. . .and we’re aware of that.”

She added that both Bush and Cheney have long believed the reason they are leaders is because they do “not chase popularity polls but. . . hold themselves to a standard that requires people not to like them.”

She went on to explain that the administration would like people to support the president’s decisions but that such a hope is “unrealistic” in time of war.

“And while we’re not able to change public opinion, we have to follow a principle,” she said, “and stand on principle.”

Reminded that she was saying, in effect, that the people had no say about the war, Perino replied that they have “input” every four years, adding: “And that’s the way our system is set up.”

As long as Congress cowers sheep-like and does not retrieve its constitutional power to declare war, an imperial Bush-style presidency will prevail.

The war against Iraq was built on falsehoods — weapons of mass destruction that did not exist and ties to al-Qaida that were a fantasy. The administration used these phony rationales to scare the American people into fearing a threat from a third-world country.

Since the administration’s original propaganda has now been revealed to be bogus, Bush has resumed his claim that it was necessary to rid the world of a tyrant, Saddam Hussein — a friend of the U.S., incidentally, in earlier times.

His aides remain loyal to their chant that Iraq is “the central front in the war on terrorism.”

Any port in a storm seems to be the strategy of White House spin-masters.

Determined to ignore the reality that the war is a debacle and the killing will go on, Bush last year came up with the “surge” theory of dispatching 30,000 more troops to Iraq in hopes of bringing Iraqi submission.

There has been a lessening of violence in Iraq. Could it be that there are fewer attacks on American troops because we are paying huge sums of money to Sunni Iraqis to persuade them to stop attacking Americans and instead go after al-Qaida?

Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will leave Baghdad in May to report to Bush and Congress on the status of the war and talk about a timetable for a drawdown of more troops — or even propose a pause in withdrawals.

Next November, the American voters will decide on a new president. Before then, reporters will be remiss if they fail to nail the candidates on whether the views of the people on questions of war and peace will count with them.

The High I Get From History

Tonight was Ivan Scott’s memorial service. I only got four hours of sleep the night before but there wasn’t any question I was going, so I bucked up and walked down to the Catholic Church on 24th and Pennsylvania. Ivan, who went to Princeton, served in Korea and then went on to cover wars as a CBS radio correspondent. I was fascinated by his nine lives and asked him what it was like reporting from a war zone.

“There is nothing more thrilling than having bullets buzz by your head and shells flying in the air. It’s the only place a reporter should be if they want to cover the news.”

For many reasons I believed and admired him.

But let me back up for just a second.  I met Ivan, Helen (Thomas), (Rahubir) Goyal and Connie (Lawn) at a dinner last May 17th. I’ll always remember the date, the moment, the evening. In many ways it changed the course of my life. It also confirmed my direction towards journalism in a profound way.

The dinner, which I won’t get into now, had me sitting right across Helen. Thankfully, my Aunt Debi was there, who served as the perfect generational liaison. I asked Helen if we could have lunch sometime and she said “Sure. Give me a call and we’ll have a Coke.” And that’s how it all started.

My First Memorable Conversation with Ivan

At one point, Helen and Debi danced off to the bathroom together and I was left at the table with Ivan. In his seersucker suite, brown rimmed circle glasses and warm smile, he turned to me and got serious.

“You know, young lady, she’s a legend. She’s a legend in this town.”

I looked at him a bit shocked. He was looking out for Helen like a sister, a member of his family and for a second my enchantment faded. I understood. And although I barely knew the extend of her history, I agreed.

“Yes, I know.”

Ivan went on to take me under his wing, taking me to drinks and dinners, allowing me a rich conversation where I could ask anything about his life, history, war, and relationships. He was, by all means, a mentor who went beyond the call of duty.  Last week, after a brief illness, he passed away. 

Ivan’s Memorial Service

When I walked into the church, I noticed Helen was in the back sitting alone. I decided I’d sit next to her, but first went over and lit a candle. Somehow through my tenuous spirituality, I asked my Mom to sit with me for strength. Funerals, as I know, bring unpredictable, and sometimes, unwelcome emotion.

I went over and slide down the pew with my street team backpack. Helen smiled and welcomed me. After a minute, she broke the silence.

“I didn’t even know. I was away,” she said.

Her make-up was done and her hair curled. There was a sadness about her so I didn’t really say much.

After the ceremony I watched Tony Snowe walk up to her, who had just consoled Ivan’s wife, to give her a friendly stroke. It was a moment of grief for all those around us, but in particular, I thought, to Helen, who had lost a friend who took with him so much heart and knowledge about her life.

She kept an eye on me as we walked out the Church and said in a low voice, “Let’s go get a coffee or a drink.” She extended her hand for me to hold, and told me, “I’m still wobbly from the long flight (from Dubai).”

So I escorted her, through fans of people (I know this because of the nervous compliments people came to give her) and to the curb where, a man who had sat behind us, offered us a ride. During the ceremony she had turned to him, a Navy officer at the Pentagon, and said, “You have a wonderful voice.”

We went to the Tabbard Inn, the last place I had met Ivan, and had our usual gin and vodka. I told her all about the Winter Soldier event.  She was on my every word, especially when I told her about Conscientious Objector, Camilo Mejia.

“He said,” I told her, “that it is difficult being a CO in the military. But that ‘war, is the best argument against war.”

She smiled and looked very pleased. “That’s an incredible quote.”

On our way out, she had barely made it to the steps when she went into a rant about White House Press Secretary, Dana Perino.

“Torture…torture…’we don’t torture’ she says….’we don’t torture?!’ Please!”

Helen didn’t know it but a couple was standing behind us. They couldn’t get through as Helen had paused to finish her rant. I made eye contact to let the woman know to go the other way around.

I figured she had no idea who Helen – or I – for that matter was, and would be on her way. Instead, she walked down the steps and positioned herself in front of Helen.

“Ms. Thomas, I have never been in your presence before. My husband and I were so pleased when you walked in… and…I…I just wanted to say Thank you, for everything you’ve done.”

Helen, as if almost granted these moments by sheer reparation of her age and societal contributions, lit up, like every other time a person thanked her.

“Thank you so much. Thank you so much,” she gently and sincerely said.

Before the woman could walk two steps away, Helen got back to what she was saying to me.

“ ‘Torture…’ We don’t torture! What do you mean, ‘we don’t torture?!’ ”

“Helen,” I said with a big smile, “you sure don’t miss a beat!”

She paused and let out a big laugh.

“I guess I don’t!”

And in that moment, Ivan, a person who knew how to laugh despite the realization that everything in the world is not always right, was in some way there.

The Way Helen Sees It

At age 87, Dean of the White House Press Corp, Helen Thomas, is still kicking ass and taking names. Throughout her tenure as a wire reporter for UPI, Thomas helped to break the Kennedy assasination, traveled to China with Nixon, and covered the “Washington side” of Vietnam, Korea, the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts and now Iraq. Today, she writes a column for Hearst News Corporation which comes out every Thursday in the Falls Church News Press. When I asked Helen about her New Years Resolution, she paused and then with a burst of energy said, “Send Bush to the Hague!”

The video is here.