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Who's on first?

Or as we say in White House briefing room, "Who's in the first row?" By tradition, first row occupants have been members of the television networks and the wire services. But when United Press International (UPI) went belly up several years ago, its prime reporter, the dean of the White House press corps, Helen Thomas, stayed on in the front row. Now, there are rumblings that the White House Correspondents Association (which controls the seating arrangement) wants to take her front row perch away.

All this supposedly will happen when the press corps moves into its new digs in late spring.

Today, long-time briefing attendee Lester Kinsolving, who's known for his off-beat questions, posed this question to Press Secretary Tony Snow:


(Briefing transcript provided by the White House)
Kinsolving: Last night, CNN featured the president of the White House Correspondents Association saying of Helen Thomas: 'We love her, and we'll take care of her.' But CNN also reported that in order to accommodate one more network in row one, Helen, our senior-to-all colleague, is to be relegated to row two when we move back into the White House press room. And my question: Assuming that CNN is accurate, how can you allow this dean of our corps, senior veteran and undeniably colorful character to be back-seated as has been done to her at presidential press conferences? (Laughter) And what does this say about Bush-Snow treatment of senior citizens, who wonder how you and the president can allow a network such ageist favoritism over a veteran?
Snow: Number one, of course we love Helen. Number two, the White House does not make decisions about where people sit, so you can address that to the Correspondents' Association. And number three, regardless of the seating arrangement, you'll still be looking at the back of her head. (Laughter)
Kinsolving: Why do you allow this? Why do you and the president allow this discrimination against a senior citizen, who is our senior reporter? 
Helen Thomas: I don't need a defender, thank you very much.

Now, to other news at the White House...