Ben Bradlee, who led The Washington Post newsroom for 26 years and “guided The Post’s transformation into one of the world’s leading newspapers,” died yesterday at his home of natural causes at age 93.
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.
The most compelling story of Mr. Bradlee’s tenure was Watergate, a political scandal touched off by The Post’s reporting that ended in the only resignation of a president in U.S. history (Richard Nixon).
In 1972, Bradlee backed reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they probed the break-in at the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. According to Bradlee in a video interview:
“You had a lot of Cuban or Spanish-speaking guys in masks and rubber gloves, with walkie-talkies, arrested in the Democratic National Committee Headquarters at 2:00 in the morning. What the hell were they in there for? What were they doing? The follow-up story was based primarily on their arraignment in court, and it was based on information given our police reporter, Al Lewis, by the cops, showing them an address book that one of the burglars had in his pocket, and in the address book was the name ‘Hunt’, H-u-n-t, and the phone number was the White House phone number, which Al Lewis and every reporter worth his salt knew. And when, the next day, Woodward—this is probably Sunday or maybe Monday, because the burglary was Saturday morning early—called the number and asked to speak to Mr. Hunt, and the operator said, ‘Well, he’s not here now; he’s over at’, such-and-such a place, gave him another number, and Woodward called him up, and Hunt answered the phone, and Woodward said, ‘We want to know why your name was in the address book of the Watergate burglars.’ And there is this long, deathly hush, and Hunt said, ‘Oh my God!’ and hung up. So you had the White House. You have Hunt saying ‘Oh my God!’ At a later arraignment, one of the guys whispered to a judge. The judge said, ‘What do you do?’ and Woodward overheard the words ‘CIA.’ So if your interest isn’t whetted by this time, you’re not a journalist.”
President Obama in a statement said in part, “For Benjamin Bradlee, journalism was more than a profession — it was a public good vital to our democracy. A true newspaperman, he published the Pentagon Papers, exposed Watergate, and told stories that needed to be told. The standard he set — a standard for honest, objective, meticulous reporting — encouraged so many others to enter the profession.”
(READ the full tribute in the Washington Post)
Photo by Miguel Ariel Contreras Drake-McLaughlin (CC license)