Washington Post Editor Bradlee Reflects on Career

MONITORADIO's Pat Bodnar interviewed Ben Bradlee, the top editor of the Washington Post, who will be stepping down Sept. 1.Bodnar: Mr. Bradlee became one of the best-known and most controversial American editors during the Post's two-year investigation of the Watergate scandal. He first started at the Post as a young reporter in 1949 and returned in 1965 as managing editor. Bradlee's boosters say he quickly turned the paper into a vital thriving news operation which largely reflected his own energy and drive. It's a compliment he likes to deflect. Bradlee: All newspapers need energy and nerve. Why I was so lucky is that I arrived back at the Post at a time when they were ready to spend some money to improve it. It took nerve, but it also took some money and it took some energy.

(Bodnar): You're best known to the general public as the editor who really believed in the young reporters who broke the Watergate scandal. Put this into context, because at the time most news organizations were ignoring the story. (Bradlee): Well, I don't understand why they did. I understand if you were in Chicago or Dallas or Los Angeles, maybe, but here you had this story that had so many intriguing parts. You had five Cuban-Americans dressed in rubber gloves, and each of them with crisp hundred-dollar bills, breaking into the Democratic National Committee. I mean, I don't see, it would have taken an act of will to ignore that. So we just kept at it to try to find out what the hell they were doing there.

(Bodnar): Now, of course, White House spokesman Ron Ziegler said the Post used the shabbiest journalistic techniques.

(Bradlee): Yes, but, what was it, 32 people went to jail as a result of that and none of them was working for the Washington Post, so ... I don't know what Ziegler's talking about.

(Bodnar): You've been praised yourself, but criticized also for your close relationships with sources, beginning with President John F. Kennedy. What kind of advice do you give to reporters about getting to know their sources, particularly in Washington?

(Bradlee): Well, you know, I don't think people think that through. If you are a reporter and you cover a mayor or a governor, you are going to develop a relationship with that person, and it could be dislike, it could be hatred, it could be esteem, it could be a whole lot of different things. The important thing is that the editors know what that relationship is and be sure that it's not abused by either the source or by the reporter.... I would love to have reporters who have the access to governmental officials that I had, and the editors will take care of the possible abuses. None of these people who say I was too close to Kennedy say that I ever abused that access. I didn't.

(Bodnar): ... In this age where most people get their news from television, do you think newspapers have to think in terms of doing something different strategically?

(Bradlee): I don't know. You know, there's an awful lot of talk about that. Most people get their first bite of news out of television or radio, I think that's probably right. But the longest story on the CBS Evening News will be a hundred words and, you know, that's two paragraphs of a newspaper. For those people who want to know more, they still have to take a newspaper.

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