Ben Bradlee, the editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate scandal, died at his home in D.C. yesterday. He was 93.
President Obama released a statement in the evening praising the man who presided over the newsroom for 26 years as managing editor then executive editor.
“For Benjamin Bradlee, journalism was more than a profession – it was a public good vital to our democracy,” Obama said. “A true newspaperman, he transformed the Washington Post into one of the country’s finest newspapers, and with him at the helm, a growing army of reporters published the Pentagon Papers, exposed Watergate, and told stories that needed to be told – stories that helped us understand our world and one another a little bit better.”
“The standard he set – a standard for honest, objective, meticulous reporting – encouraged so many others to enter the profession,” he added. “And that standard is why, last year, I was proud to honor Ben with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Today, we offer our thoughts and prayers to Ben’s family, and all who were fortunate to share in what truly was a good life.”
At the November 2013 Medal of Freedom ceremony, Obama noted that Bradlee was a veteran of World War II and more than a dozen Pacific battles.
“Ben Bradlee brought the same intensity and dedication to journalism,” Obama said then. “When Ben retired, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan put the admiration of many into a poem: ‘O rare Ben Bradlee/His reign has ceased/But his nation stands/Its strength increased.’”
“As editor of our hometown newspaper, Benjamin Bradlee defined an era of reporting that gave birth to investigative journalism as we now know it,” D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said. “He will be remembered for his fearless journalism, for building a team of pathbreaking journalists, and for giving them the freedom to do what seemed to be the impossible.”
“Bradlee, his publisher Katharine Graham, and his reporters lived among the powerful in Washington, but were completely undaunted by them, including the president,” Norton stressed. “Outside of the newsroom, Bradlee did not forget our community, raising millions of dollars for the District’s Children’s National Medical Center.”
The Washington Post obituary stressed that the paper won 17 Pulitzer prizes during Bradlee’s reign.
Bradlee was portrayed by Jason Robards in All the President’s Men.
“Mr. Bradlee’s patrician good looks, gravelly voice, profane vocabulary and zest for journalism and for life all contributed to the charismatic personality that dominated and shaped The Post. Modern American newspaper editors rarely achieve much fame, but Mr. Bradlee became a celebrity and loved the status,” reads the WaPo article:
“He was a presence, a force,” [Bob] Woodward recalled of Mr. Bradlee’s role during the Watergate period, 1972 to 1974. “And he was a doubter, a skeptic — ‘Do we have it yet?’ ‘Have we proved it?’ ” Decades later, Woodward remembered the words that he most hated to hear from Mr. Bradlee then: “You don’t have it yet, kid.”
Mr. Bradlee loved the Watergate story, not least because it gave the newspaper “impact,” his favorite word in his first years as editor. He wanted the paper to be noticed. In his personal vernacular — a vivid, blasphemous argot that combined the swearwords he mastered in the Navy during World War II with the impeccable enunciation of a blue-blooded Bostonian — a great story was “a real tube-ripper.”
This meant a story was so hot that Post readers would rip the paper out of the tubes into which the paperboy delivered it. A bad story was “mego” — the acronym for “my eyes glaze over” — applied to anything that bored him. Maximizing the number of tube-rippers and minimizing mego was the Bradlee strategy.
Mr. Bradlee’s tactics were also simple: “Hire people smarter than you are” and encourage them to bloom. His energy and his mystique were infectious.