JOURNALISTS and politicians united to pay tribute yesterday to Ben Bradlee, the editor who presided over the Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Watergate scandal.
The veteran newspaperman, who inspired generations of reporters and editors thanks to his dogged and forensic journalistic approach, died at his Washington home. He was 93.
He started out as a reporter on the Post in 1948, landing his first scoop with an eyewitness account of an attack by extremists on the guest house of President Harry S Truman.
It was as editor, however, that he cemented the paper’s status, guiding, advising and encouraging reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward in a series of articles that ousted Richard Nixon from the White House.
President Barack Obama hailed Mr Bradlee’s life and work yesterday. To him, journalism was “more than a profession”, he said. “It was a public good vital to our democracy.”
As managing editor first and later as executive editor, gravel-voiced Mr Bradlee engineered the transformation of the Post from a sleepy “home-town” paper into a leading national title before his retirement from the newsroom in 1991.
Actor Jason Robards later portrayed him in the film, All the President’s Men, which told the story of Watergate.
In an enduring partnership with publisher Katharine Graham, Mr Bradlee took a stand for press freedom in 1971 by publishing “the Pentagon Papers”, a secret study of the Vietnam War, broken by the New York Times, against the advice of lawyers and the entreaties of top government officials.
The ensuing legal battle went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which upheld the right of newspapers to publish the leaked documents.
Mr Bradlee “set the ground rules – pushing, pushing, pushing, not so subtly asking everyone to take one more step, relentlessly pursuing the story in the face of persistent accusations against us and a concerted campaign of intimidation,” Ms Graham later wrote.
Last year, Mr Bradlee received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Mr Obama.
Yesterday, Mr Obama said: “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.”
Mr Bernstein and Mr Woodward yesterday also gave thanks to their “true friend and genius leader in journalism”.
In a joint statement, they said: “His one unbending principle was the quest for the truth and the necessity of that pursuit. He had the courage of an army.
“We loved him deeply, and he will never be forgotten or replaced in our lives.”