Kathleen Rodgers's Reviews > My Life With Helen: The Dean of the White House Press Corps Through Her Agent's Eyes

My Life With Helen by Diane S. Nine
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it was amazing

In a conversational style that keeps the reader engaged and turning the pages, Diane S. Nine invites you to pull up a chair and “listen in” as she tells you a story filled with admiration and devotion to one woman known the world over. It’s a story about soaring professional success and triumph for a woman journalist from Michigan who broke down gender barriers to cover every president from J.F.K. to Barack Obama. But there’s also heartache as one careless remark to a rabbi sent Helen Thomas’ long distinguished career to a screeching halt. Helen didn’t know she was being videotaped. After her comment was broadcast, it made international headlines. Lots of people around the world were outraged, including journalists and politicians on both sides of the aisle in Washington, D.C., the city Helen called home for decades as she covered the White House.

What Helen said back in 2010 was considered anti-Semitic, although Helen stated in follow-up interviews that she wasn’t a racist as she herself was a Semite, of Arab descent. She was eighty-nine years old at the time. She eventually apologized but it wasn’t enough. Forced to resign from a prestigious position as a newspaper columnist for a major publication, Helen lived three more years and passed away shortly before her ninety-third birthday.

Besides Helen, the other person who carried the brunt of the nuclear verbal fallout was her longtime friend and agent, Diane S. Nine, President of Nine Speakers, Inc. In the book, Diane explains how she and her family and Helen Thomas go way back to the days even before Diane was born. For a young Diane, Helen was almost like a member of the family. After Diane graduated from college, she moved to Washington, D.C. to attend law school at George Washington University, eventually establishing her literary agency where she represented not only Helen Thomas, but many other well-known writers and journalists. Over the years, Diane handled all of Helen’s book contracts along with television and radio interviews and even a documentary about Helen for HBO. Through it all, Diane remained a constant in Helen’s life, often traveling with her and socializing with a close group of Helen’s friends dubbed “The Ladies.”

As I delved further into the story, I found myself longing for a life I’ve never personally experienced except through the pages of Diane’s book. There were parties and meetings at the White House, photos with presidents and first ladies, dinners with friends at Helen’s favorite D.C. landmark restaurant, Mama Ayesha’s. In my mind, I traveled with Helen Thomas and President Nixon to China in 1972. I met a couple of glamourous Hollywood types and learned of their idiosyncrasies when it comes to a certain way to sip coffee. I learned about Ethel Kennedy’s favorite food served at every meal and how Helen loved to wear leopard print. Trust me, you want to read this book.

When Helen fell from grace, Diane and her agency received thousands of emails from around the world, most of them lashing out at Diane for representing Helen. Some were downright threatening. I can’t help but wonder if Helen had been a man, a male journalist? Would the same comment from a man have incited as much rage? In an age where a sitting president can make fun of a disabled reporter, call the free press fake news, stop giving white house press briefings all together, I like to imagine Helen Thomas sitting on the front row in her trademark red outfits and peppering the president with tough questions. She was a formidable presence for decades.

Despite everything that happened, Helen Thomas paved the way for every female journalist working today in print and on broadcast news. And through it all, Diane Nine remained her friend until the end.

I highly recommend this book! It’s that good.

(Full disclosure: I am rep'd by Diane Nine, and if I'm biased, it's because I respect her professionalism as an agent and her tenacity in the face of adversity.)
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Reading Progress

February 7, 2020 – Shelved
February 7, 2020 – Shelved as: to-read
Started Reading
April 14, 2020 – Finished Reading

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