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On the legacy of Ben Bradlee

63696_cartoon_mainThe journalism world lost a revered editor last week. Ben Bradlee was executive editor of The Washington Post for 26 years. He oversaw the Pulitzer-prize winning Watergate coverage by Woodward and Bernstein. He led the controversial publishing of the Pentagon papers. He transformed a daily newspaper into one of the most vital tools of democracy in this country.

There’s nothing I can be more grateful for as an aspiring journalist than to have an idol like Bradlee. He established what it means to be a journalist: he sought the truth and was determined to report it.

Yesterday, my journalism class participated in a phone call with Jules Witcover, a famed ‘Boys on the Bus’ journalist who worked under Bradlee at the Post for about four years and called him a friend for many, many more. Witcover said Bradlee was “the greatest of all newspaper editors I’ve encountered in 65 years in the business.”

What others said…

Post columnist, Eugene Robinson: “He made you understand that journalism was not a career but a mission. He made you feel that how well you did your job was not just important to your own ambitions but had a real impact on society. He demanded more than you thought you could possibly deliver, and you moved heaven and earth not to disappoint him.”

President Obama: “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, and with him at the helm, a growing army of reporters published the Pentagon Papers, exposed Watergate, and told stories that needed to be told – stories that helped us understand our world and one another a little bit better.”


“Nose down, ass up and moving steadily forward into the future.”

-Ben Bradlee

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1 Comment

  1. Impressive, Tanza. He would like it and then act a little disgusted. He spoke at Elon several years ago, you know. In McCrary Theater. The spotlight shot straight down on his rostrum, and he could not see his notes from the glare. He looked up and said something like this: “That’s a helluva shame. I can’t read a god-damned thing. Well, then, I’ll just talk.” And so he did, and it was just great. He was in his mid-80s then. Great gravelly voice. Good fun. But he was gone as soon as talk ended, so we didn’t get too close to him.

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