BEN Bradlee, who was editor of The Washington Post when the newspaper uncovered the Watergate scandal, has passed away at the age of 93.
It was Mr. Bradlee’s unflinching support for two relatively junior reporters who had uncovered links between what had appeared to be a straightforward burglary in 1972 and the office of the President of the United States.
At the early stages of the story, Mr. Bradlee had to fend off questions about why he had given reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein so much freedom to pursue what some people at the newspaper believed to be an unimportant story. But the pair would eventually uncover one of the biggest political scandals ever to hit Washington and would lead to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Several Nixon aides would also be jailed.
The story had been sparked by a burglary at the Democratic Party’s offices in the Watergate building in Washington. As Mr. Bradley would later recall, Woodward and Bernstein had originally been assigned the story simply because they were working a weekend shift, which senior reporters normally avoided (see below).
But as little details began to emerge, including the uncovering of a notebook by another of the paper’s reporters (see below), it was Mr. Bradlee’s insistence that the two junior members of staff be allowed to stick with the story that eventually paid dividends.
In the Hollywood movie based on the story, All The President’s Men (1976), Bradlee was played by Jason Robards.
One important element of the story was the existence of a high-level informant who became known as “Deep Throat”. The name of the informant remained secret for many years until Mark Felt outed himself. Mr. Bradlee did not find out the identity of the “Deep Throat” until after the Watergate story had emerged in full, a fact that he would later express surprise about (see below).
The Watergate story was to add to The Washington Post’s growing reputation under Mr. Bradlee’s editorship, which lasted 26 years.
But it was ironic that he should have presided over not only one of the greatest journalistic achievements at the newspaper it worst moment — the case of the reporter who wrote a 1981 Pulitzer-prize winning article about an 8-year-old heroin addict which was eventually found to be untrue.
But although the incident brought disgrace on the paper, it did not cause permanent damage to Mr. Bradlee’s reputation for championing truth. After retiring in 1991, he became a goodwill ambassador for the paper and taught courses on truth at Harvard and Georgetown universities.
He published three books. The first two, That Special Grace (1964) and Conversations with Kennedy (1975), were about his friend President John Kennedy. His autobiography, A Good Life, came out in 1995.
Mr. Bradlee received America’s highest civilian honour, The Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2013.
President Obama led tributes to the former editor. In a statement the President said: “For Benjamin Bradlee, journalism was more than a profession — it was a public good vital to our democracy. A true newspaperman, he transformed The Washington Post into one of the country’s finest newspapers.”
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