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Helen Thomas: The dogged reporter who made ten presidents squirm

Veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas, who died Saturday, was an aggressive reporter who badgered every president since John Kennedy while acting as a role model for a generation of women in journalism.

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Helen Thomas asks a question of President Barack Obama during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington in 2010. Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism and an irrepressible White House correspondent, died Saturday.

Susan Walsh/AP

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In the news cauldron that is Washington, there are journalists who are loved, there are journalists who are respected, and there are journalists who are feared.

Over the course of a long, remarkable, and ultimately controversial career, Helen Thomas was all of those. Also, as so many have said since her passing Saturday, she blazed a trail for the legion of strong women reporting, analyzing, and commenting on the news today – in print and especially in broadcast media.

This being the age of 140-character instant postings, Twitter rattled with response to the news Ms. Thomas had made.

“Helen Thomas made it possible for all of us who followed: woman pioneer journalist broke barriers died today,” tweeted NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell.

“RIP Helen Thomas – died this morning at 92. Amazing trail blazer, fearless journalist and friend & mentor to so many women reporters,” Judy Woodruff, host of the PBS NewsHour, tweeted.

“Any woman who has had the privilege of sitting in the front row of the White House briefing room owes huge debt of gratitude to Helen Thomas,” tweeted Julie Pace, White House correspondent for the Associated Press.

As White House press corps dean, Thomas got to sit front-row-center amidst the greatest collection of egos outside the United States Senate. There, as the Daily Beast noted, she held forth with “a voice full of gravel and a penchant for making powerful men squirm.”

Those powerful men she regularly caused to squirm included ten Presidents of the United States.

“She covered every White House since President Kennedy’s, and during that time she never failed to keep presidents – myself included – on their toes,” President Obama said. “What made Helen the ‘Dean of the White House Press Corps’ was not just the length of her tenure, but her fierce belief that our democracy works best when we ask tough questions and hold our leaders to account.”

"Her work was extraordinary because of her intelligence, her lively spirit and great sense of humor, and most importantly her commitment to the role of a strong press in a healthy democracy," Bill and Hillary Clinton said in the statement.

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