Helen Thomas' Parade of Presidents

Helen Thomas shattered the Fourth Estate's glass ceiling in becoming the most prominent female White House reporter in history.

She speaks candidly about her life and career to documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy for the new HBO featurette Thank You, Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House.

Thomas has an ideological ally in Kennedy, daughter of slain presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy and the woman who gave us last year's Ghosts of Abu Ghraib.

But a truly sympathetic filmmaker would have concentrated more on Thomas' early career highlights rather than let her diminish her legacy by showing her recent behavior.

And anyone who's seen Thomas' cartoonishly biased questioning of President George W. Bush knows precisely what we mean.

Still, Thomas at 88 remains a gifted storyteller, and her own remarkable life gives her plenty of tales to tell in this 40-minute feature which debuts at 9 p.m. tonight [Monday Aug. 18].

It's essentially a one-woman show. Thomas chats to an off-screen interrogator, presumably Kennedy, but no other talking heads appear to testify to her tenacity or put her work in perspective.

That's fine so long as Thomas is sharing anecdotes about her White House duties, like how she could barely hear what President Lyndon B. Johnson was saying thanks to his nearly inaudible muttering.

But Thomas puts her foot in her mouth more than once here, first contradicting her own statements and then assessing the current presidency with all the nuance of a Daily Kos diarist.

It all began for Thomas in 1943 when she first signed up with UPI to cover the news. At that time, women rarely if ever covered the White House beat, but over the years she broke through the all-men's club. And she didn't waste her chance, keeping up with her peers even if her pointy toed shoes were killing her feet long before she met her deadline.

Thank You, Mr. President works best when Thomas explores the odd relationship between herself and the president of the moment. She's there to grill them, to hold them accountable to the best of her ability, but she ends up having oddly personal attachments to each and every one. She even has pictures of herself smiling like a school girl with each one, even President George W. Bush.

She can't quite explain the relationship, but at least she acknowledges its mercurial nature.