Plenty came out in October to honor the passing of TheWashington Post’s most iconic editor, but Ben Bradlee’s friends and colleagues remember the man behind the legend.
Ben Bradlee was the gruff patrician whose love of journalism turned The Washington Post into a newspaper of national consequence. He inspired journalists by publishing the Pentagon Papers and by supporting two young reporters whose Watergate exposé toppled a president. And he was a charming fixture on the New York and Washington social scenes, with devoted friends who celebrated his life on October 29 of last year. I’ve collected some Bradlee stories that capture the greatness, character, and appeal of the man.
“When the ‘Deep Throat’ story broke, I called Ben, who didn’t want to do an interview, but ended up agreeing. So I ran to The Post, and we had an amazing conversation. He was so proud of having kept the source secret for so many decades, even from the love of his life, Sally. Because of that pledge to [Bob] Woodward and [Carl] Bernstein, the source was sacrosanct. He was, beyond everything else, a man of integrity.” —Andrea Mitchell
“Funny that the one quote from Ben that we always joked about was the one I used in my eulogy. Once I went in to ask for a raise. Ben looked up from his crossword and said, ‘You ought to be paying me to work here for all the fun you are having.’ He was right, because he made being first and getting a scoop, especially beating The New York Times on a story, a joyful event not just for the reporter, but for the whole paper.” —Walter Pincus
“When I first arrived at The Post in 1971, Ben had been in charge for six years. He said, ‘When I first came here, I thought I could fix National; then I’d fix Metro, Foreign, and Sports; and then the place would be fixed. Now I know when you turn to the second and third sections, the first gets screwed up in a new way. You have to fix them all, all the time.’” —Don Graham
“I remember when I became [the DC] bureau chief with the San Francisco Examiner. My move from politics to journalism made me the target for some deans [of the profession]—Dick Harwood, David Broder. I went to see Ben in the newsroom and after blasting Harwood’s column, Ben said, ‘What? You come in here to lift your leg on me?’ I left feeling like quite a guy: This great, heroic man had treated [me] like I was someone to be dealt with. Charm? No, this is something far deeper.” —Chris Matthews
“What I remember most are the many lunches with Ben alone. I was always instructed and inspired. He was teaching and did not know it. We shared our personal histories, family joys and sorrows, current events, and our ups and downs. We were friends.” —Vernon Jordan
“Much of my time with Ben was in East Hampton. His secret to ‘the good life’ was living both high and low. He knew Watergate wasn’t going to happen every day, so he took pleasure in the ordinary, not just the Pulitzers. He’d offer me a spoon, and we’d dig into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s until we hit the bottom of the carton.” —Margaret Carlson
“Ben and Sally were the best neighbors—terrific parties, cool pool. Here’s the only problem: Every time we saw Ben, [my wife] Ali [Went worth] would go on and on about his sexiest-man-in- DC status. I finally had to agree to make him her free pass.” —George Stephanopoulos