Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Too much to say about Ben Bradlee after hearing of his sad passing Tuesday night. I got the first word on Twitter, how appropriate in today's breaking news world, and immediately felt a loss.

Bradlee and the whole Watergate story were among the reasons I became a reporter. The more I learned about how he guided The Washington Post through that and other challenges, the more I respected him and the power of the press.

Newspapers do not seem to have the influence and guts they used to in many cases. But the story of Bradlee, not just during Watergate but the Pentagon Papers and other demanding news experiences, showed me and many others that the power of journalism was like no other.

He knew that you had to question authority and demand answers, facts and information. That trait is sometimes lost today in the world of D.C. journalistic celebrity and access worries. Bradlee was great because he was a real news person, but also a Washington socialite in his own right. He was able to balance the two and never let his reporting needs be impacted.

Even when mistakes were made, such as the embarrassing 1980 Janet Cooke story that was later retracted as a fabrication and its Pulitzer Prize returned, Bradlee stood strong. He offered to resign and later wrote in his biography, A Good Life, that the scandal was a "cross that journalism, especially The Washington Post, and especially Benjamin C. Bradlee, will bear forever."

But it was when I was fortunate enough to meet him years later during my time at Editor & Publisher that I appreciated his insight and kindness. On several occasions I was able to call him for comment on this or that issue and he would always call back, or in some cases even write a letter.

Whether in person or on the phone, Bradlee was both courteous and direct. He was not above throwing in a few profanities and saying what he believed.

When I wrote a story in 2004 about news people and their journalistic children, Bradlee and his oldest son, Ben Bradlee, Jr. -- then a Boston Globe editor -- were most accommodating.

The pinnacle came in 2006 when I was visiting Washington , D.C. and called his office to see if I could stop by and say hello. His secretary said he was heading out to lunch. When I offered to buy him lunch, she said he would meet me out front in 10 minutes or so.

When I reached the front door, he was just coming out, shook my hand and pointed to the Madison Hotel across the street. As we began walking across 15th Street, he darted out in front, dodging cars and giving me a near heart attack. I had visions of Ben Bradlee getting killed with me in tow as the cause.

We made it across and had a great lunch. I later told colleagues it was like having a meal with Reggie Jackson, another idol.

But along with Bradlee's news accomplishments, he also fought another battle for his son, Quinn, who was born with a learning disability and had long been a focus of the legendary editor's attention. Even during our lunch he talked about an upcoming trip the two were to take back to Guadalcanal, where Bradlee served in World War II.

At 93, few can feel as if his life ended too soon. But for those of us in the news business who still consider newspapers the best place for journalism his death is both the end of a life and the end of an era. An era when digging for news and reporting it with no excuses was the most important thing.

If there is a heaven, they now have a hell of an editor.

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