Groundbreaking White House Reporter Dies

By Chris Hoenig

Lee Thornton, the first Black woman to earn the coveted White House beat for one of the nation’s major news networks, has died.

Thornton covered the Carter administration for CBS News starting in 1977, just three years after joining the network. After leaving the White House, she became the first Black co-host on NPR’s All Things Considered, joining the program on weekends in 1982. Thornton then moved to CNN, where she produced Both Sides With Jesse Jackson in the early ’90s.

Thornton followed a path laid by Alice Allison Dunnigan, the first Black woman to get White House press credentials. (Dunnigan was the White House correspondent for the Associated Negro Press starting in 1948.) Like Dunnigan, Thornton also had a passion for teaching, where she began her career; she left broadcasting in 1997 to become a journalism professor at the University of Maryland.

After earning a master’s degree at Michigan State University and a doctorate from Northwestern University, Thornton worked as a speech therapist and communications instructor. She started her broadcasting career at a Cincinnati TV station.

Thornton, who died on Sept. 25 after a battle with pancreatic cancer, is survived by her sister, Marilyn Thornton, and mother, Betty. She was 71.

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