Matt Drudge reports that President George W. Bush repeatedly snubbed Helen Thomas during a 45-minute White House press conference today, taking questions from every other print journalist surrounding Thomas’ center seat in the front row.
“He’s a coward,” Drudge quotes Thomas as saying afterward. “He’ll take on Osama bin Laden, but he won’t take me on.”
Thomas spent 57 years on the White House beat for United Press International, covering every president since John F. Kennedy. Now a columnist, Thomas jumped ship at UPI in 2000 after the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s News World Communications snatched up the once-venerable wire service.
The White House world revolves around protocol. Seating in the press room is assigned based on seniority and a variety of other factors. The senior White House correspondent sits front-and-center at all press conferences and is also traditionally called upon to ask the first question. It’s a quintessential show of deference that’s been in place longer than I’ve been alive.
Until this administration. Thomas was apparently moved to the back row for press conferences in 2003, although she still sits in the front row for press briefings. That’s just wrong.
Drudge says one question Thomas thought of asking concerns the president’s contention that a 28-year-old wiretapping law is out-of-date, thus prompting him to order the National Security Agency to conduct a secret electronic surveillance program that many contend is illegal: “You keep saying it’s a 1978 law, but the Constitution [is] 200 years old. Is that out-of-date, too?”