Wednesday, October 22, 2014

End of An Era... Ben Bradlee Dies

If you're a person of a certain age, you know the name Ben Bradlee.  You know he was executive editor of the Washington Post.  He supported and protected young reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward while they sought to uncover the greatest government scandal in our nation's history.  He worked with  Katharine Graham, owner of the WaPo, for 26 years; they published the Pentagon Papers and are closely aligned with the defining moment that changed politics and how we will forever view our elected officials, our government, our defense department and our country: the burglary at the DNC headquarters in the Watergate building ultimately resulting in the resignation of Pres. Richard Nixon 

Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee changed politics in America forever.  As editor of The Washington Post during the critical years of the Viet Nam War - the beginning of the Clinton presidency, 1965-1991, he and Post owner Katharine Graham prevailed against the U.S. Government in a 6-3 Supreme Court decision, allowing the Post to publish the Pentagon Papers,a study of U.S. political and military activities in Viet Nam.   They went on to support and publish the Watergate scandal as written by two unknown-at-the- time reporters, Woodward and Bernstein. 

He was a great newspaper man.
When Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, then two young reporters, first approached Bradlee about a burglary in the Watergate complex the details were murky, but he was certain there was a story...he supported Woodward and Bernstein as they began pursuing leads and took direction from an anonymous source known as “Deep Throat.” They were young reporters, though, without sources on the record. PBS NewsHour’s Jim Lehrer asked Bradlee in 2005 how he knew they were right.
“Because nobody told me they were wrong and nobody could prove they were wrong; they weren’t wrong,” said Bradlee. PBS Newshour The Rundown 10/21/14
In reading a few of the hundreds of articles published since his death was announced, I am struck by stories of his humanity, his sense of right and wrong, his kindnesses.  Often, portrayals of people who've changed the world are two-dimensional.  Bradlee sounds anything but that. 

He was a great mentor. 
He left us alone. He never told us what the story was, how he wanted it written, or what it was supposed to prove that he already believed. You were in charge. And when you’d had your say, he stood by you, battling the detractors, defending your choices, answering all charges of incompetence with praise for your guts and good sense. “You can’t do any better than surround yourself with the best people you can find,” he wrote in his memoir, "A Good Life,” “and then listen to them.”  M. Sherrill Washington Post 10/21/14
I received a letter from Ben dated March 6, 1970. It began: “Dear Ted: You got nosed out in the finals of the toughest competition we have ever had... You are really a year premature and your lack of previous experience in journalism was a tough hurdle for us to overcome. I was particularly sorry about you, because I was attracted by your love of writing, and your attitude generally. I hunch that you have a hell of a future in this business, and I hereby urge you to reapply again and again. I enjoyed my time with you enormously. Keep up your interest in this business. You will make it. Sincerely, Ben Bradlee”  Ted Gup  New York Times  10/22/14
He was a patriot.

 “You don’t think of journalists automatically as patriots, one. You don’t think of them as real authorities in the question of what is classified and what isn’t, and what is a threat to the United States and what isn’t. But in fact at that time, we were,” said Bradlee in his interview with the Academy of Achievement. “We were more expert that a lot of the government witnesses who testified against us…most of us had served in World War II and had quite fancy security clearances. So we did, and there was no threat to the national security, and information, truth, is not a threat to security, and we believed that.”  PBS News Hour  The Rundown 10/21/14
He was a leader.

He took over an also-ran newspaper and turned it into a battleship like the one on which he served in World War II. Once the newspaper he ran gained steam, there was only the relentless effort to beat the competition, to find and woo talent, to afflict those that The Post deemed worthy.In the more than quarter-century he helped lead the newsroom, from 1965 to 1991, he doubled its staff and circulation, and multiplied its ambitions. He would have been a terrible newspaperman in the current context — buyouts, reduced print schedules, timidity about offending advertisers — but he was a perfect one for his time.   David Carr NY Times  10/22/14

I find the last line in the above David Carr excerpt particularly appropriate as I wonder what Ben Bradlee would think of today's media, sensationalist reporting and irresponsible journalism.  



Grandmother (Mary) said...

Nice tribute to a great man. How he helped shape the stories of our days. A man of stature.

California Girl said...

Mary, I probably should have titled it, "The Man Who Helped Take Down Nixon'

Brian Miller said...

it is pretty sad to see him pass...he was quite the man...and i agree with mary..he did shape many of the stories of our day...

The Silver Fox said...

I doubt we'll ever see his like again, cliche as it sounds to say that. His faith in Woodward and Bernstein literally changed this country.

California Girl said...

Brian, I seriously miss the good old days when newspapers reigned.

California Girl said...

Foxy, I know! Were it not for his faith in them and Kay Graham's faith in Bradlee 's judgment that story might never have seen the light of day.

bill lisleman said...

I've heard of Kay Graham before. The impact the Washington Post investigations shows why good news reporting is needed. Thanks for sharing the info on Bradlee.
I dislike the change of news media to entertainment. Sometimes important stories will be sorta boring but they are still important.

California Girl said...

LisleMan, they lead with the most sensational stories, they cross promote their own shows ad nauseum, they insert inane entertainment crap and they run commercials about erectile dysfunction, constipation, fallen arches and the like. I rarely watch the news anymore. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are MY news gurus.

X said...

Wonderful piece
Great Editor and human being
The world is a lesser place when men and women like him are gone

California Girl said...

X, Welcome. I agree. I hope the pendulum swings back towards responsible and accurate journalism before I'm dead. Seriously.

troutbirder said...

Wonderful summary of a great man and journalist. I watched him last night on an old Charlie Rose interview and his insight and humanity came through very clearly...;)

California Girl said...

Tbirder, so glad you're still reading the blog. Thanks for the nice comment. Guys like Bradlee are a rarity in this media day & age.

Pat Tillett said...

That was a great tribute to a man that deserved one. You are so right about things changing.

I know you did a lot of work on this post and it paid off. It was fantastic!

California Girl said...

Thanks Pat! I need to spend more time on the blog. Work is interfering!


by Cole Scott