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Lee Thornton, 71; pioneering TV journalist

Lee Thornton joined the University of Maryland journalism school in 1997.

University of Maryland

Lee Thornton joined the University of Maryland journalism school in 1997.

WASHINGTON — Lee Thornton, who in 1977 became the first black woman to cover the White House regularly for CBS and later taught journalism and was an administrator at the University of Maryland, died Sept. 25 at her home in Bethesda, Md. She was 71.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, said her sister, Marilyn Thornton.

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Ms. Thornton — whose degree was in radio, television, and film studies — began her career in academia before entering broadcast journalism in the early 1970s. She joined CBS News in 1974 and, from 1977 to 1981, covered the Carter White House.

In ‘‘Women of the Washington Press,’’ a book by journalism scholar Maurine H. Beasley, Ms. Thornton described herself as ‘‘fourth in line’’ among the White House correspondents and was often assigned stories about the president’s wife.

In the newsroom hierarchy of the era, she said her reporting was often relegated to the weekend report.

Ms. Thornton worked for the CBS affiliate in Detroit before joining National Public Radio’s ‘‘All Things Considered’’ program in 1982 as a weekend host. Two years later, she became a Washington-based reporter, producer, and news anchor for the American Business Network, a cable news network run by the US Chamber of Commerce.

She began teaching journalism at Howard University in the 1980s and took a sabbatical in the early 1990s to produce public affairs shows at CNN.

In 1997, she joined the University of Maryland’s journalism school to teach broadcast reporting.

After retiring in 2011, she returned to work at the graduate school’s ombuds office.

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