Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee
August 26, 1921
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||October 21, 2014 (aged 93)|
Washington, D.C., U.S.
|Resting place||Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C., U.S.|
|Education||Dexter School, St. Mark's School|
|Alma mater||Harvard University|
|Employer||The Washington Post|
|Known for||publication of the Pentagon Papers and reporting the Watergate scandal|
(m. 1942; div. 1956)
(m. 1957; div. 1977)
|Children||4 (incl. Ben Jr. and Quinn)|
|Parent(s)||Frederick Josiah Bradlee, Jr. |
Josephine de Gersdorff
Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee (August 26, 1921 – October 21, 2014) was one of the most prominent journalists of post-World War II United States, serving first as managing editor, then as executive editor at The Washington Post, from 1965 to 1991. He became a public figure when he joined The New York Times in publishing the Pentagon Papers and gave the go-ahead for the paper's extensive coverage of the Watergate scandal. He was also criticized for editorial lapses when the Post had to return a Pulitzer Prize in 1981 after it discovered its award-winning story was false.
After retirement, Bradlee continued to be associated with the Post, holding the position of "Vice President at-large" until his death. In retirement Bradlee was an advocate for education and the study of history, including working for years as an active trustee on the boards of several major educational, historical, and archaeological research institutions.
Early life and education
Ben Bradlee was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Frederick Josiah Bradlee, Jr., an investment banker, and Josephine de Gersdorff, daughter of a Wall Street lawyer. His great uncle was Frank Crowninshield, founder and first editor of Vanity Fair.
Bradlee was the second of three children; his siblings were older brother Frederick, a writer and Broadway stage actor, and younger sister Constance. The children grew up in a wealthy family with domestic staff. They learned French from governesses, took piano and riding lessons, and went to the symphony and the opera; but the stock market crash of 1929 cost Bradlee's father his job, and he took on whatever work he could find to support his family, from selling deodorants to supervising janitors at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
With the help of wealthy relatives, Bradlee was able to continue his education at Dexter School, and to finish high school at St. Mark's School, where he played varsity baseball. At St. Mark's he contracted polio, but eventually recovered enough to walk without limping. He went on to attend Harvard College, where his father had been a star football player, and graduated in 1942 with a combined Greek–English major.
World War II service
Like many of his classmates, Bradlee anticipated the United States would eventually enter the European conflict and enrolled in the Naval ROTC at Harvard. As a result, he received his naval commission on the same day he graduated. He was assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence, and served as a communications officer in the Pacific during World War II. He was assigned to the destroyer USS Philip fighting off the shore of Guam and arriving at Guadalcanal with the Second Transport Group, part of Task Group 62.4, commanded by Rear Admiral Norman Scott. Bradlee's main battles were Vella Lavella, Saipan, Tinian, and Bougainville. He also fought in the biggest naval battle ever fought, the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines Campaign, in the Borneo Campaign, and made every landing in the Solomon Islands campaign.
Early career in journalism
At loose ends after the war, Bradlee was recruited by a high school classmate in 1946 to work at the New Hampshire Sunday News, a new Sunday paper in Manchester, New Hampshire. The paper struggled to build advertising and circulation for two years, but was finally sold to the Manchester Union-Leader, the competing daily newspaper. Bradlee appealed to family friends for job leads, and got interviews at both The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post. According to Bradlee, when the train arrived in Baltimore it was raining, so he stayed on the train to Washington and was hired by The Washington Post as a reporter. He got to know associate publisher Philip Graham, who was the son-in-law of the publisher, Eugene Meyer. On November 1, 1950, Bradlee was alighting from a streetcar in front of the White House just as two Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to shoot their way into Blair House in an attempt to kill President Harry S. Truman. In 1951 Bradlee become assistant press attaché in the American embassy in Paris 
As a reporter in the 1950s, Bradlee became close friends with then-senator John F. Kennedy, who had graduated from Harvard two years before Bradlee, and lived nearby. In 1960 Bradlee toured with both Kennedy and Richard Nixon in their presidential campaigns. He later wrote a book, Conversations With Kennedy (W.W. Norton, 1975), recounting their relationship during those years. Bradlee was, at this point, Washington Bureau chief for Newsweek, a position from which he helped negotiate the sale of the magazine to The Washington Post holding company.
Career at The Washington Post
Bradlee remained with Newsweek until he was promoted to managing editor at the Post in 1965. He became executive editor in 1968.
Under Bradlee's leadership, The Washington Post took on major challenges during the Nixon administration. In 1971 The New York Times and the Post successfully challenged the government over the right to publish the Pentagon Papers.
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 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.
Ensuing investigations of suspected cover-ups led inexorably to congressional committees, conflicting testimonies, and ultimately to the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974. For decades, Bradlee was one of only four publicly known people who knew the true identity of press informant Deep Throat, the other three being Woodward, Bernstein, and Deep Throat himself, who later revealed himself to be Nixon's FBI associate director Mark Felt.
In 1981 Post reporter Janet Cooke won a Pulitzer Prize for "Jimmy's World", a profile of an 8-year-old heroin addict. Cooke's article turned out to be fiction: there was no such addict. As executive editor, Bradlee was roundly criticized in many circles for failing to ensure the article's accuracy. After questions about the story's veracity arose, Bradlee (along with publisher Donald Graham) ordered a "full disclosure" investigation to ascertain the truth. Bradlee personally apologized to Mayor Marion Barry and the chief of police of Washington, D.C., for the Post's fictitious article. Cooke, meanwhile, was forced to resign and relinquish the Pulitzer.
Activities and awards after retirement
Bradlee retired as the executive editor of The Washington Post in September 1991 but continued to serve as vice president at large until his death. He was succeeded as executive editor at the Post by Leonard Downie Jr., whom Bradlee had appointed as managing editor seven years earlier.
In 1991 he was persuaded by then–governor of Maryland William Donald Schaefer to accept the chairmanship of the Historic St. Mary's City Commission and continued in that position through 2003. He also served for many years as a member of the board of trustees at St. Mary's College of Maryland, and endowed the Benjamin C. Bradlee Annual Lecture in Journalism there. He continued to serve as vice chairman of the school's board of trustees.
In 1991 Bradlee delivered the Theodore H. White lecture at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. His message: Lying in Washington, whether in the White House or the Congress, is wrong, immoral, tearing at the fiber of our national instincts and institutions — and must stop. He said, "Lying has reached such epidemic proportions in our culture and among our institutions in recent years, that we've all become immunized to it." He went on to suggest that the deceit was degrading the respect for the truth.
He published an autobiography in 1995, A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures.
In recognition of his work as editor of The Washington Post, Bradlee won the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism in 1998.
In the fall of 2005 Jim Lehrer conducted six hours of interviews with Bradlee on a variety of topics, from the responsibilities of the press to Watergate to the Valerie Plame affair. The interviews were edited for an hour-long documentary, Free Speech: Jim Lehrer and Ben Bradlee, which premiered on PBS on June 19, 2006.
On May 3, 2006, Bradlee received a Doctor of Humane Letters from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Prior to receiving the honorary degree, he taught occasional journalism courses at Georgetown.
Bradlee suffered from Alzheimer's disease in his final years. In late September 2014, he entered hospice care due to declining health. He died October 21, 2014, at his home in Washington, D.C., at the age of 93. His funeral was held at the Washington National Cathedral. He was buried at the Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Marriages and children
Bradlee was married three times. His first marriage was to Jean Saltonstall. Like Bradlee, Saltonstall also came from a wealthy and prominent Boston family. They married on August 8, 1942, the same day Bradlee graduated from Harvard and entered the Navy. They had one son, Ben Bradlee Jr., who later became first a reporter, then a deputy managing editor at The Boston Globe.
Bradlee and his first wife divorced while he was an overseas correspondent for Newsweek. In 1957 he married Antoinette 'Tony' Pinchot Pittman. Together, they had a son, Dominic, and a daughter, Marina. This marriage also ended in divorce.
In popular culture
- Actor Jason Robards portrayed Bradlee in the 1976 film, All the President's Men, winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance.
- Henderson Forsythe played Bradlee in the 1989 romantic comedy, Chances Are.
- G. D. Spradlin played the role of Bradlee in Dick, a 1999 spoof of Watergate.
- Éric Soubelet portrayed Bradlee in the 2016 historical drama, Jackie.
- Tom Hanks portrayed Bradlee in director Steven Spielberg's 2017 historical drama, The Post.
- Alfred Molina played Bradlee in the 2018 historical drama, The Front Runner.
- Bradlee, Ben. Conversations With Kennedy (W W Norton & Co Inc, November 1, 1984) ISBN 978-0-393-30189-2
- Bradlee, Ben. A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures (Simon & Schuster, October, 1995) ISBN 978-0-684-80894-9
- "Ben Bradlee—Career Timeline". The Investigating Power project. American University. 2012. Retrieved October 9, 2014.
- "Frederic Bradlee -- Actor and Writer, 84". The New York Times. July 16, 2003. Archived from the original on May 27, 2015. Retrieved June 15, 2015.
- Kaiser, Robert G. (October 21, 2014). "Ben Bradlee, legendary Washington Post editor, dies at 93". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 21, 2014.
- Berger, Marilyn (October 21, 2014). "Ben Bradlee, Washington Editor and Watergate Warrior, Dies at 93". The New York Times. Retrieved October 21, 2014.
- Bradlee, Benjamin C. (n.d.). "Answering the Call: Benjamin C. Bradlee". Military.com. Archived from the original on October 22, 2014. Retrieved October 25, 2014.
- Stephen Hunter and John Bainbridge, Jr., American Gunfight: The Plot To Kill Harry Truman - And The Shoot-Out That Stopped It, Simon & Schuster (2005), ISBN 0-7432-6068-6.
- Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. "John F. Kennedy graduates from Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, June 1940". John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Retrieved October 23, 2014.
- Reed, Christopher (October 21, 2014). "Ben Bradlee obituary". The Guardian. Archived from the original on October 22, 2014. Retrieved October 23, 2014.
- "Benjamin C. Bradlee Biography and Interview". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
- Helton, John; Leopold, Todd (October 22, 2014). "Washington Post's Ben Bradlee dies". CNN. Archived from the original on October 25, 2014. Retrieved October 23, 2014.
- Cooke, Janet (1981). "Jimmy's World". Saint Michael's College (Colchester, Vermont). Retrieved December 6, 2017.
- "Remembering Ben Bradlee: Legendary newspaperman and tenacious leader". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved October 23, 2014.
- "Legendary Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee, of Watergate Fame, Dies". NBCNews.com. Retrieved October 23, 2014.
- St. Mary's College of Maryland Board of Trustees Archived April 15, 2009, at the Wayback Machine from the college's website
- "Theodore H. White lecture" (PDF).
- "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
- Arizona State University (January 29, 2009). "Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication". Retrieved November 23, 2016.
- "Honors". The Washington Post. December 2, 2007. Retrieved October 22, 2014.
- "President Obama Names Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients". Office of the Press Secretary, The White House. August 8, 2013. Retrieved August 8, 2013.
- Quinn, Sally. "He was behaving differently. He had lost something. I was the only one who noticed". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 19, 2017.
- Diamond, Jeremy (September 29, 2014). "Washington Post's Ben Bradlee in hospice care". CNN. Archived from the original on October 6, 2014. Retrieved October 24, 2014.
- Karr, Ronald (2007). Weir, Robert (ed.). Class in America: An Encyclopedia [3 volumes]: An Encyclopedia Vol 3. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 90. ISBN 978-0313337192.
- Byers, Dylan; Gold, Hadas (October 21, 2014). "Ben Bradlee dies". Politico. Archived from the original on October 22, 2014. Retrieved October 24, 2014.
- "Ben Bradlee Jr". The Boston Globe. 2004. Archived from the original on November 4, 2013. Retrieved October 24, 2014.
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