UPI's Helen Thomas Quits Rather Than Work for Unification Church

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas resigned on Tuesday from United Press International ending a tenure with that news organization that spanned six decades. Thomas' working years are longer than President Clinton is old and, at 79, has outlasted nearly all her press corps colleagues.

Thomas announced her resignation Tuesday, a day after UPI was sold to News World Communications Inc., the parent firm of The Washington Times.

News World Communications was founded by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Unification Church.

Thomas did not specify why she decided to resign from UPI.

Thomas was hired by UPI during World War II as a $24-a-week radio script writer.

"I have no plans to join the new UPI," Thomas said in a statement distributed to news services. Thomas said that she anticipated the sale of the news wire service and cleaned out her White House desk over the weekend.

"The nearly century-old United Press International is a great news agency and has made a remarkable contribution to the legacy of American journalism," Thomas said. "I have loved working for this organization for 57 years in Washington, and especially loved covering the White House. I wish the new management well and hope they will continue the tradition in the future that this wire service has represented."

UPI Chief Executive Officer Arnaud de Borchgrave announced Thomas' resignation "with great regret and sadness."

"Helen is truly a legend in her own time, a brilliant reporter I have known and admired since I first met her in 1961," de Borchgrave said. "She has outrun the best of them -- because she is the best of them."

De Borchgrave initially said Thomas would remain with the company. Diane Nine, Thomas' longtime agent, said Thomas "felt he misunderstood" her intentions after the two spoke on Monday.

"She's resigned from UPI. She does not plan on retiring," Nine said. "She is exploring a number of opportunities that are out there. She hopes to be at the White House in the role of a reporter."

Thomas' resignation drew gasps from the Washington press corps. Colleagues on Tuesday visited UPI's booth at the White House looking for her in vain.

Thomas was in Indiana on Tuesday doing promotional work for her book of memoirs entitled, "Front Row at the White House," published in 1999.

The President and his White House staff also were shocked by Thomas' resignation from UPI.

"Presidents come and go, but Helen's been here," President Clinton told reporters. "I'll feel a little better about my country if I know she'll still be spending some time around here at the White House. After all, without her saying, 'Thank you, Mr. President,' at least some of us might never have ended our news conferences."

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart, born the year Thomas joined the White House beat, said her departure from UPI leaves a void that may never be filled.

"This room will not be the same,'' Lockhart said. "... We certainly hope she will find a way, in all the new ventures that she will be pursuing, to have business here and come here ... and bug me like she's done since the day I took this job."

Thomas has been a fixture at the White House since the Kennedy administration, covering eight presidents. She is known for her terse, tough questioning of presidents and press secretaries alike.