Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Man Who Allowed It To Happen

Everyone who covers news for a living is in mourning today after the passing of former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee.  While Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein get most of the credit for uncovering the Watergate break-in and the attempts by those in the Richard Nixon White House to cover up their connection to the crime--and Nixon's knowledge of the cover up--those two would never have had their investigative work published without Ben Bradlee.

It was Bradlee that weathered the constant pressure from the White House and from within his own organization to give up on the Watergate story.  No other news service in the country was dedicating any air time or print space after the initial break in and the arrest of G Gordon Liddy and his "plumbers".  But Bradlee had trust and faith in his two relatively-young reporters that there was something more there--and he gave them the time and the space to do their work.  He allowed the two to use anonymous sources to further their reporting--a practice not that common at the time--but the only way to tell the story, since those who wanted the truth to be known had far too much to lose to go on the record.

Bradlee also stood by "Wood-stein" when the occasionally got things wrong and when sources fed them incorrect information to throw them off the trail.  That is probably the most courageous act in that entire drama--because of the high stakes involved.  If you've seen the movie adaptation of the book All The President's Men you may recall Jason Robard's classic line "We stand by the boys".

Ben Bradlee is still why many journalists do what they do for living.  It's why we file the open records requests.  It's why we sit through the interminably long meetings.  It's why we leave the 23-messages for comment.  And it's why we deal with the stream of emails, Facebook messages and phone calls accusing us of "twisting the truth" and being unfair to one side or the other.  Because when we expose a District Attorney that takes bribes, or we find that an elected body violated Open Meetings laws and when we uncover abuse of power by those we elect to any public office--we are honoring the legacy of Ben Bradlee.

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