The death of Ben Bradlee, the tenacious and hard-driving leader of the Washington Post newsroom for 26 years, triggered reflections not only on the life of the man but also on the important role that a free press plays in holding government accountable.
“For Benjamin Bradlee, journalism was more than a profession — it was a public good vital to our democracy,” President Obama said in an October 21 statement. The president credited Bradlee with telling stories that needed to be told, and helping his readers to understand their world and each other a little bit better.
Bradlee “was courageous and fearless, gutsy and gritty, and as much as we remember his big laugh and his love of politics and people, his legacy defines great journalism,” Secretary of State John Kerry said. ”He found the facts and he let the facts tell the story, no matter where they led.”
The editor’s leadership in uncovering the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s led to the 1974 resignation of U.S. President Richard Nixon.
Kerry said “the magnitude and consequences of the choices Ben Bradlee and [Washington Post publisher] Katharine Graham were making are almost impossible to convey adequately. It required bravery. It exposed the truth. It saved lives.”
Throughout his life, Bradlee was a staunch advocate for the essential value of journalism.
“The idea that any society, but especially this [U.S.] society, could function without a daily news update of some kind in some form” is not plausible, Bradlee said in a 2008 interview.
The longtime editor was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. At the ceremony, Obama described him as a communicator “who shined a light on stories no one else was telling.”
Bradlee died October 21 in Washington at the age of 93.