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Helen Thomas, pioneering White House journalist, dies at 92

Famed White House journalist Helen Thomas has died at the age of 92. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

Famed White House journalist Helen Thomas has died at the age of 92.

The Gridiron Club and Foundation, a journalistic organization in Washington, D.C., confirmed Thomas' passing to NBC News on Saturday.

Thomas died on Saturday morning at her Washington apartment after a long illness, the club said in a statement. A former president of the Gridiron Club, Thomas broke a long line of all-male leadership when she was chosen for the position in 1993.

The journalist who scored a front-row seat at White House press briefings after years of reporting for wire services had been in and out of the hospital recently, a friend, Muriel Dobbin, told the Associated Press. The daughter of Lebanese immigrants, Thomas had grown up in Detroit before moving to Washington, D.C., where she broke several barriers for female correspondents.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP file

President Barack Obama, marking his 48th birthday, takes a break from his official duties to bring birthday greetings to veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas.

Known for her persistent style of questioning, Thomas was most recognized for her work with United Press International, and covered nine presidents over her long career. She started as a copy girl at the Washington Daily News, moving to what was then called the United Press in 1943.

She spent her last 10 years in journalism writing a column for Hearst newspapers, a post she retired from in 2010 after she was caught on a videotape saying that Israel should “get the hell out of Palestine.” Her comments spread quickly on the Internet, and Thomas announced that she would retire shortly before her 90th birthday.

In a statement issued later, Thomas said she regretted her comments: “They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.”

A 49-year veteran of the White House press, Thomas was known for getting the last word at presidential news conferences: “Thank you, Mr. President.”

She saw the nation's leaders at their best and worst from her front-row seat to the executive branch.

“I have witnessed presidents in situations of great triumph and adulation, when they are riding the crest of personal fulfillment, and I have seen them fall off their pedestals through an abuse of power or what President Clinton called ‘a lapse of critical judgment,'” Thomas wrote in her memoir.

Her husband, The Associated Press’ Douglas Cornell, died in 1982.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Aug. 4: President Barack Obama turned 48 Tuesday and shared the event with press room veteran Helen Thomas, who turned 89. NBC's Brian Williams reports.