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Sarah McClendon: 1910-2003; Reporter had a need to know - Clinton in cross hairs
The Dallas Morning News ^ | January 9, 2003 | The Dallas Morning News Staff

Posted on 01/09/2003 1:59:45 AM PST by MeekOneGOP

Sarah McClendon: 1910-2003
Reporter had a need to know

Tenacious Texan grilled and amused presidents, cut path for newswomen


By CARL P. LEUBSDORF / The Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON - Sarah McClendon, the colorful and aggressive Texas reporter whose pointed questioning bedeviled and amused presidents and other officials for nearly six decades, died Wednesday at age 92.

She died at the VA Medical Center here where she had been hospitalized for several weeks, a hospital spokeswoman said. Her daughter, Sally MacDonald, said the cause of death was pneumonia.

"She died with her nail polish on," Ms. MacDonald said. "She had a wonderful life."

She said that a memorial service would be held for Ms. McClendon at the National Press Club but that no date has been set.

Though she did her primary reporting for small and medium-size Texas newspapers, Ms. McClendon became nationally known for her aggressive questioning of presidents at televised White House news conferences.

Brash, outspoken and uninhibited, she was a Washington original, a reporter and a single mother at a time when most of her colleagues were men. Her career continued into her late 80s.

McClendon and the presidents
What she said to the presidents
Dwight D. Eisenhower: "Leave off some of your golf and go out and visit some of the small cities."
Richard Nixon: "Maybe the people you appointed to office aren't giving you the right information."
George Bush (the elder): "Sir, we have majority rule in this country, and you seem to be afraid of it."

What the presidents said to her
Eisenhower: "Do you get fired every week and go to work for a different paper?" (a reference to the fact that she rotated references to the papers she worked for)
Bush: "I'm not going to take questions from you if you act like that. I just want to remind you it's not always the squeaky wheel that gets the grease."
Lyndon B. Johnson: "I can run the country or take questions from Sarah McClendon, but not both."

Even when forced by declining health to use a wheelchair, she continued to attend White House briefings and news conferences and to demand answers to the kind of offbeat questions that were her trademark.

Clinton in cross hairs

At a March 1997 White House news conference, she asked President Bill Clinton to counteract rumors that the United Nations was "taking over whole blocs of counties in Kentucky and Tennessee ... and you're going to give our Army to Russia." Mr. Clinton sidestepped the question.

"Time never diminished Sarah's feisty spirit or her quest for the facts," the former president said Wednesday in a prepared statement. "She didn't just ask questions. She demanded answers."

Veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas called her colleague of more than four decades "a real pioneer. She worked for women's rights. She certainly strived to get newswomen equal access to the leaders in this town."

"No one can say she hasn't gotten the attention of the powers that be in the White House," Ms. Thomas noted during a 1995 roast of Ms. McClendon.

Ms. McClendon once angered Lyndon Johnson so much that, when he became president, he had her fired as Washington correspondent for some of her papers. But she still considered him a friend.

"Though Texans, in our ornery way, sometimes play by cut-throat rules, we do stick together," she wrote in her 1996 autobiography, Mr. President, Mr. President!

Perhaps her most famous question came in 1959 when she asked President Dwight D. Eisenhower what policy decisions Vice President Richard Nixon had participated in.

"I can't think of any," he replied. When another questioner returned to the subject, Eisenhower gave his much-quoted response, "Give me a week and I'll think of something."

Her favorite president, she wrote, was John F. Kennedy. Despite "a mixed record, [he had] a profound effect on Americans of many ages ... many in my generation adored him. I was among them."

A native of Tyler, Ms. McClendon was the youngest of nine children. Her father was the local Democratic Party chairman and later the local postmaster, while her mother founded literary clubs and attended suffragette meetings.

FILE 1969 / AP
Sarah McClendon said she tried to "cut through all those bureaucratic words and phrases" at White House news conferences.

A graduate of Tyler Junior College and the University of Missouri, Ms. McClendon worked for the Tyler Courier-Times, the Tyler Morning Telegraph and the Beaumont Enterprise before joining the Army in World War II.

She became a Washington correspondent in 1944 after being discharged from the Women's Army Corps because she was pregnant.

Her husband, John Thomas O'Brien, was a paper salesman and an alcoholic who, she wrote, "had little to recommend him but my own loneliness." He abandoned her before the birth of her only child, Ms. MacDonald, and she never remarried.

Hired by longtime Washington correspondent Bascom Timmons to represent the Philadelphia Daily News, she established her own bureau in 1946. At one time, it represented a dozen papers from El Paso to Longview and as far away as New England.

Shot at the big time

At first, she primarily reported from Capitol Hill. But when Eisenhower was elected in 1952 and began holding live news conferences, "I felt it was high time to push my career to a new level of prominence," she acknowledged in her autobiography.

Upset at limits placed on questioning, she shouted at the president from the balcony of the Old Executive Office building's Indian Treaty Room, demanding to know if such restrictions would remain in effect.

"Let's don't take this one as a necessary pattern," the startled president replied. "I am certainly open to suggestions."

From then on, Ms. McClendon wrote, she always arrived early, got a seat in front and tried to ask a question at every news conference, "fighting for my readers, fighting for information, trying to cut through all those bureaucratic words and phrases."

During the Nixon administration, she once forced a shake-up of the Veterans Administration with persistent questioning about delays in checks for veterans attending college under the GI Bill of Rights.

In 1982, she scolded President Ronald Reagan for allegedly suppressing details of a government report on discrimination against women. She once said Mr. Reagan "didn't know much about government."

But when she had a hip replacement operation, Mr. Reagan called her in the hospital and, at his next news conference, gave her the first question. Her question: "Why don't we have better health care for the elderly?"

In recent years, items from her newsletter gained a following on the Internet, especially those alleging governmental conspiracies and cover-ups.

"I'm quite positive [former White House associate counsel Vince] Foster was murdered," she announced during a 1995 appearance on Diane Rehm's syndicated radio interview show.

In a 1997 newsletter, she reported that "a rift" had developed between Mr. Clinton and his wife and Vice President Al Gore and that the Clintons had talked with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., about his being named vice president.

Ms. McClendon received a number of honors for her journalistic trailblazing and her efforts on behalf of American veterans.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development named a shelter for homeless veterans in Washington the Sarah McClendon House.

Ms. McClendon planned to leave her papers to the University of Texas at Tyler.


Online at:

TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Extended News; US: Texas
KEYWORDS: newsreporter; sarahmcclendondies; texas; tyler

1 posted on 01/09/2003 1:59:45 AM PST by MeekOneGOP
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To: All
FOX News showed a filmclip of this very incident on Brit Hume's show. She was adament, too !:

Clinton in cross hairs

At a March 1997 White House news conference, she asked President Bill Clinton to counteract rumors that the United Nations was "taking over whole blocs of counties in Kentucky and Tennessee ... and you're going to give our Army to Russia." Mr. Clinton sidestepped the question.

"Time never diminished Sarah's feisty spirit or her quest for the facts," the former president said Wednesday in a prepared statement. "She didn't just ask questions. She demanded answers."

Sarah McClendon being greeted by President Bill Clinton
(Official White House Photo)

2 posted on 01/09/2003 2:02:07 AM PST by MeekOneGOP (
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To: All

Sarah McClendon being greeted by President George W. Bush
(Photo by Svetlana Orechova)

3 posted on 01/09/2003 2:05:18 AM PST by MeekOneGOP (
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To: MeeknMing
Sir, we have majority rule in this country, and you seem to be afraid of it."

Utter nonsense. Sorry for her family at her passing, but this statement indicates to me that she was has no clue about the US Constitution. We are representative democracy. We are not governed by "majority rule" (although, that's what we're rapidly becoming, unfortunately)

4 posted on 01/09/2003 7:31:14 AM PST by Libertarian444
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To: Libertarian444
I wholeheartedly disagree with your view.
5 posted on 01/09/2003 4:13:31 PM PST by MatthewViti
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To: MeeknMing
A woman who served as a White House correspondent for 52 years and under 12 presidents should have gotten front page coverage! Who else do you know has done that or will ever have the tenacity and integrity to serve that long again?

Sarah McClendon was an amazing woman who did amazing things. She went beyond the call of duty as a correspondent. When she saw something wrong, she proceeded to fix it. If she alone could not fix it, she tracked down who could. She wrote about situations that affected the people of the nation from the farmer to the veteran, not just Washington. She was a veterans advocate and listened to their needs if any of them wrote her a letter. At one point in 1973 during the Nixon Administration she discovered how unfairly veterans were being treated. Yet, the Nixon Administration was issuing statements on how much it was doing for the veteran. Sarah checked the situation out. She went to Nixon and told him he needed to get rid of the VA Director Donald Johnson. Well, he did and things changed for the better for the veterans. ( Boy could the veterans of America use Sarah McClendon's intervention now for they are in the same if not worse situation with healthcare and claims and Anthony Principi while the VA is issuing statements on what they are doing for the vet. Yet on the opposite pages of many newspapers we read about VA fraud in its employees and their prosecutions.)

What disturbs me greatly is the lack of elaboration on Sarah's military service. She was an officer in the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps and later the Women's Army Corp earning a number of medals. She was an exemplary soldier and proud of her military contribution. She was disturbed by her involuntary discharge for pregnancy in 1944 and was actually the first officer to give birth in a military hospital. She would not take no for an answer and rightly so! Boy did she get some shorts in a bunch over that!

I to was involuntarily discharged for pregnancy in the Women's ?Army Corp on 8/3/70. Knowing what I have learned of Sarah McClendon and the facts surrounding involuntary discharge for pregnancy I would say that unfair, unequal and unconstitutional discharge is what truly made Sarah the woman we all came to know and her gift for the ability to not give up, to preservere and to fight for the underdog. She knew what it felt like and rather than deal with self pity, like me and others she turned her pain of the wrongs against her into doing something constructive about injustice. As a matter of fact Sarah McClendon and her wrongful discharge was instrumental in giving President Truman the insight into the 1948 Women's Integration Act. For in the Congressional hearings of that act it was discussed in depth the variety of roles of being a woman which included marriage and motherhood. Had the military paid attention and followed President Truman's direction no woman would have ever been involuntarily discharged! Truman was ahead of his time when it came to equal treatment of all people.

The Tyler-Bender Mandatory Discharge Relief Act known as H.R. 5447 in the 107th Congress was introduced on 9/24/02 by Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (GA). Due to Gary Mouhoumed who works for Congressman John Boehner, Chairman of Education and Workforce Committee in 'Washington, D.C. our bill never got to the Speaker of the House for a vote. Why? The same reason we were discharged. Complete, outright discrimination of a man who feels women did not belong in the military. Refer Platform and Help icon on the site If Sarah were still in the White House this bill would never have been delayed. Had I known while she was in the White House what I know now Sarah could have fixed our problem by implementing the Crawford vs Cushman ruling in 1976. The nation will be less of a place now that Sarah is not among us. We certainly could use more like her! She was definitely one of a kind.

6 posted on 01/11/2003 8:51:45 AM PST by Carolyn ("We are yesterday's voices in an unfinished revolution." H.R. 5447 Tyler-Bender Discharge ACT)
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