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Helen Thomas in 2007. (AP)

What Helen Thomas would be asking if she could

ASK THIS | August 13, 2008

The legendary newswoman is recovering from illness. But if she were in the White House briefing room, these are the questions she says she would be putting to spokeswoman Dana Perino.

By Dan Froomkin

The White House briefing room just isn’t the same without Helen Thomas, the ailing 88-year-old Hearst Newspapers columnist and Bush gadfly. Her acerbic, heartfelt demands for answers on issues such as war and torture provide a striking contrast to the often passionless, small-bore questions from her more traditional colleagues.

In late April, Thomas became the target of a remarkable Internet campaign, with fans sending her dozens of flower arrangements after a particularly frustrating exchange with White House press secretary Dana Perino. Thomas had been trying to get Perino to explain the apparent contradiction between President Bush’s insistence that “we don’t torture” and his administration’s record of torturing people. But Perino doggedly refused to acknowledge that torture had taken place. When Perino tried to move on – and no other reporter expressed any interest in the matter -- Thomas turned to her colleagues and asked in disgust: “Where is everybody? For God's sakes.” There was no response.

Thomas was stricken with an infection in May, and after a long hospitalization is now in a rehabilitation center. She tells me through her agent: "I'm looking forward to jumping into the fray again, and I am improved."

I asked her what questions she’d be asking if she could. Her top three:

Q. I'm still trying to reconcile the contradiction of the President saying we do not torture.  Response?

Q. Why does this administration continue to threaten in volatile disputes, despite knowing it cannot follow through?

Q. What do you (Dana) think will be Bush's legacy, with his popularity polls so diminished and his philosophy of preemptive war so repudiated?

Thomas, who has covered nine presidents since first being assigned to the White House by UPI in 1961, is the subject of an upcoming short documentary on HBO, Thank You, Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House.

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