Benjamin C. Bradlee: 1921-2014

Benjamin_C._Bradlee

Legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, who led the newspaper for 26 years and oversaw coverage of the Watergate scandal that led to the impeachment of President Richard Nixon, died Tuesday at the age of 93.

“There is nothing like daily journalism! Best damn job in the world!” Ben Bradlee said, as he happily slammed a folded newspaper on his desk one morning in 1985 after I wrote a story that had his phone ringing off the hook.

Ben loved to stir things up, loved to get people talking.

— Some tributes: Editor Mary Jordan remembers what it was like to get praise from Bradlee. Former managing editor Leonard Downing reflects on working with Bradlee, and novelist Ward Just describes his relationship with Bradlee.

 

“Ben Bradlee, Legendary Washington Post Editor, Dies at 93,” Robert G. Kaiser, The Washington Post, Oct. 21, 2014

“He was a presence, a force,” 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 swear words 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.”

— The Washington Post’s 7,800-word obituary remembering Bradlee’s life.

 

“The Red Flag in the Flowerpot,” Jeff Himmelman, New York Magazine, April 29, 2012

I pulled one of the folders at random and came across a 1977 letter to Katharine Graham, then the Post’s publisher:

Dear Mrs. Graham:

Messrs. Eugene Meyer and Philip L. Graham must be turning over in their graves because of the way you are dragging down what used to be a wonderful newspaper.

In my humble opinion, I think the persons really responsible for the Washington Post’s decline are Benjamin C. Bradlee and Philip L. Geyelin.

Beneath it was Ben’s response:

Dear Mr. Dodderidge:

Your letter to Mrs. Graham reminded me of the story about W. C. Fields sitting with a drink in his hand in his garden one afternoon.

His secretary interrupted him repeatedly to tell him that a strange man wanted to see him and refused to say what he wanted to see him about. Finally Fields told his secretary to give the man “an equivocal answer—tell him to go fuck himself.”

— An excerpt from Jeff Himmelman’s Yours in Truth, a biography of Bradlee, published in New York magazine. “The secret of Ben,” Himmelman writes, “is that there is no secret.”

See also: “Dear Asshole: The Letters of Ben Bradlee From New Biography,” Matthew DeLuca, Newsweek

 

“A Return,” Ben Bradlee, The New Yorker, Oct. 2, 2006

And yet, at least for me, it was the most important period of my life—really the first thing I did. I was born, I had polio, I went to college—and I was in the war.

— Bradlee served on a Navy destroyer during World War II and wrote about his experience for The New Yorker.

Article reblogged from: Longreads Blog.

Photo taken from: Wikimedia Commons.

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