Ben Bradlee, the former editor of The Washington Post during the Watergate scandal, has died at age 93.
Bradlee’s impact on journalism – and journalists – is far reaching. He made tough decisions, like to publish the Pentagon Papers. He didn’t pull back on stories, like the Watergate scandal. And he held his reporters to high expectations.
I had the opportunity to listen to Bradlee in 2007 at the Society of Professional Journalism’s annual conference. That year it was in Washington, D.C. and Bradlee joined Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Daniel Schorr, and Bob Schieffer during a keynote about Watergate. SPJ quoted Schorr as saying Woodward and Bernstein changed the face of journalism.
[Schorr] called it the “Watergate syndrome” and said that afterward, people started to question authority more.
“We should not assume that when the presidents or the press secretaries speak, they are saying the truth. And we had that example,” Schorr said. “It’s really about investigative reporting.”
Had it not been for the support of Bradlee, I don’t know whether the same could have been said of the two reporters. People close to Bradlee said he lived and breathed journalism – that it was his life.
The news industry has changed dramatically – a few times over – since Bradlee left the Post, but the expectation of journalists to question authority and dig as deep as possible has not waiver. That, in part, should be credited to Bradlee’s tenacious attitude.