White House press corps star Helen Thomas appeared on the Today Show this morning, ostensibly because she's Ann Curry's "inspiration" — but the always-awesome Thomas shows she's much more than that.

Ann Curry simpers annoyingly throughout the interview (low moment: asking the 89-year-old Thomas what she wants people to say about her when she's dead), and she's got a lot to learn if she wants to live up to her "inspiration." Thomas, on the other hand, comes off as gracious yet direct. She emphasizes the achievements of other women journalists when Curry tries to single her out, but of the ten Presidents she has covered, she says, "I think every President could've done better." The best part, though, is when Curry asks her (again, simpering) if she thinks "if you had asked things more diplomatically, you might've gotten more of an answer?" Thomas says, "I think the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and that's the way I like to ask the questions."

It's an admirable answer because in a journalistic setting, it often seems like the shortest distance between two points — or least between the journalist and the source's approval and help — isn't a straight line. The easiest thing to do when interviewing someone is to softball, to make the source feel comfortable and at home, because this is what we're taught to do in social situations. Asking difficult questions basically means intentionally creating awkward situations, something most of us — especially women — spent junior high school trying to avoid. And while it's sometimes necessary to butter up a source a little bit, some questions — like, say, "Would the President attack innocent Iraqi lives?" — really can't be sugarcoated. Helen Thomas has spent her career going against all social conditioning by asking the most powerful people in the country questions that actually matter (as opposed to questions about, say, their obituaries) — for that, she deserves to be an inspiration to everyone.

Helen Thomas' Impact On Ann Curry [Today Show]