Friday, October 24, 2014

bequests to the Republic

{Excerpts from The New Yorker article on Ben Bradlee, written by David Remnick, Oct. 21, 2014}
[text by Remnick; photographs added by this blog]

Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee, the most charismatic and consequential newspaper editor of postwar America, died at the age of ninety-three on Tuesday.  Among his many bequests to the Republic was a catalogue of swaggering anecdotes rich enough to float a week of testimonial dinners.  Bradlee stories almost always relate to his glittering surface qualities, which combined the Brahmin and the profane.

...With his gray hair slicked back, his eyes actually twinkling...he had the self-confident carriage of an emperor.  His domain was the Post newsroom...

...The obituaries will properly give Bradlee credit for building, along with the owner, Katharine Graham, the institution of the Post....

Together, Bradlee and Graham took a mediocre-to-good paper and turned it into something ambitious, wealthy, and brave. 

The Bradlee-Graham partnership was behind the publication (along with the N.Y. Times) of the Pentagon Papers, in 1971, which made plain the extent of Presidential deception and folly during the Vietnam War. 

And they were behind Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's Watergate reporting....

...As a reporter, even if you were quite sure he didn't know your name, you were prepared to go to fantastic lengths to live up to his standards.  And he was fun, the embodiment of how much fun journalism could be.  Ben Bradlee was the least dull figure in the history of postwar journalism.

Younger people watching the actor Jason Robards' portrayal of Bradlee in All The President's Men can be forgiven for thinking it is a broad caricature, an exaggeration of his cement-mixer voice, his cocky ebullience, his ferocious instinct for a political story, and his astonishing support for his reporters.  In fact, Robards underplayed Bradlee....

The most overstated notion about Bradlee was the idea that he was an ideological man.  This was a cartoon.  Because of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, he and Katharine Graham were often imagined to be ferociously committed liberals. 

They were, in fact, committed to the First Amendment, committed to publishing; they made their names by building an institution strong enough to be daring.

...When, in conversation or in his memoirs, he did talk about his political ideas, they did not run very deep.  As a former soldier, he was ambivalent about the anti-Vietnam War movement.  After a trip to Vietnam in 1971, he "ended up feeling uncommitted politically as usual," he once said.

"By instinct and habit, I was more interested in the whatness of the war rather than in the rightness or wrongness," he wrote in his 1995 memoir, A Good Life.

...Bradlee was, above all, a driven newspaperman, a man of his time and of his institution, and more alive than a major weather system. 

He was a man of great principle and of great luck, blessed in the ownership that supported him...He might not have been professorial but he was a great teacher. 

Even after Bradlee was on the back nine of his career, he was capable, with a word or a gesture, of pushing a reporter toward better work.


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