Update, 6:18PM: President Barack Obama reacts to Ben Bradlee’s death with the following statement: “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. The standard he set – a standard for honest, objective, meticulous reporting – encouraged so many others to enter the profession. And that standard is why, last year, I was proud to honor Ben with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Today, we offer our thoughts and prayers to Ben’s family, and all who were fortunate to share in what truly was a good life.”
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Previous 5:14PM: The Washington Post executive editor who challenged the U.S. government over the publication of the Pentagon Papers during the Nixon presidency and oversaw Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s legendary Watergate coverage died today. Ben Bradlee was 93. While Bradlee died from natural causes, his wife, journalist Sally Quinn had told C-SPAN that Bradlee had dementia and that his health had declined in recent months.
The most recent post he held at the newspaper was as vice president-at-large. He was born in Boston, Mass. on Aug. 26, 1921 to Frederick Josiah Bradlee, Jr., whose lineage could be drawn back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and Josephine de Gersdorff, who was bestowed with the French Legion of Honor for protecting children from the Nazis during World War II. A Harvard grad, Bradlee was commissioned by the Navy within hours after his graduation, working in the Office of Naval Intelligence and serving in several WWII battles. Following the war in 1946, he became a reporter with the New Hampshire Sunday News before segueing to The Washington Post in 1948.
As a reporter, Bradlee toured with Presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Milhous Nixon during their campaigns. While serving as the Washington Bureau chief at Newsweek, he was one of the integral players in selling the mag to The Washington Post. He was appointed the managing editor the Post in 1965 and became the executive editor in 1968. As an editor, Bradlee had the backs of Woodward and Bernstein during their revolutionary coverage of the break-in at the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel; which ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation in 1974. Together with Woodward and Bernstein, Bradlee was one of four who knew the identify of Watergate informant “Deep Throat” (later revealed to be Nixon’s FBI Associate Director Mark Felt). In Alan J. Pakula’s Oscar-winning film All The President’s Men which recounted Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate days, Bradlee was sublimely portrayed by Jason Robards, who won a best supporting actor Oscar for playing the Washington Post editor.
But as much of a heyday as Watergate was for Bradlee, he also weathered a darker period at the paper, when he faced criticism over publishing Janet Cooke’s 1981 article “Jimmy’s World” which chronicled an eight-year old heroin addict. The article won Cooke a Pulitzer Prize, however, it turned out the entire piece was fabricated. Bradlee’s accuracy as a news editor was put into question, and he was forced to apologize to Mayor Marion Berry. During a post-mortem investigation into the piece, Bradlee compared Cooke to Nixon in her attempt to coverup a false story. Cooke was pressed to resigned and, of course, gave the Pulitzer back. However, one sour pickle did not spoil the barrel, for during Bradlee’s leadership at The Washington Post, the paper amassed 17 Pulitzers.
In addition during his tenure, Bradlee, expanded The Washington Post’s global coverage by opening foreign bureaus around the world. President Obama honored Bradlee in 2013 with the Medal of Freedom for his news coverage during the Vietnam War and Watergate.
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