The word veteran barely begins to describe White House reporter Helen Thomas, whose life is chronicled by filmmaker Rory Kennedy (American Hollow) in a new HBO documentary. Thomas, who turned 88 this month, is known for accusatory speeches couched as innocent queries. She needled John F. Kennedy about his administration’s attempt to spin its actions through “managed news,” hounded Nixon during Watergate, pushed Clinton to define his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, and rattled George W. Bush, during his first visit to the White House press room, by demanding to know why a secular officeholder would purposefully tear down the walls between Church and State.
Alas, Thomas’s stubborn combativeness, coupled with her pioneering status in a male-dominated profession, deserves more insight and scrutiny than this polite, regrettably brief documentary can muster.
If the director, the youngest of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s 11 children, had any special insight into the culture of Washington, she doesn’t bring it to bear here. Thank You, Mr. President hits the high points of Thomas’s life and lets her deliver some informative, stinging one-liners (“All Presidents hate us, so you start from there”). But you don’t learn much more than you’d get from skimming her Wikipedia entry, and the irritating fiddle-driven score, which declares, “Look out! Intrepid grandma coming through!,” diminishes a formidable subject.