WASHINGTON — Ben Bradlee, the former Washington Post editor who died Tuesday at age 93, took a sleepy hometown newspaper and transformed it into a great one.
Five things to know about the raspy-voiced Bradlee and how he did it:
HE HAD SOME LUCKY BREAKS
Bradlee ended up getting a job at the Post in part because it was raining in Baltimore. How so? Bradlee had been headed for a job interview in Baltimore in 1948 when a heavy rain prompted him to skip that appointment and stay on the train to job search in Washington. “My world might certainly have changed — and some other people’s worlds — if the sun had been shining that day,” he wrote in his memoir.
HE HAD FRIENDS IN THE RIGHT PLACES
Yes, location matters. Just months after Bradlee bought a house in Georgetown, Sen. John F. Kennedy and his wife moved in across the street. They soon ended up at the same dinner party and became close friends. “When I got to know Kennedy, I kind of staked him out as part of my own territorial imperative, and as he prospered, so did I,” Bradlee later wrote.
HE PRESSED TO PUBLISH THE PENTAGON PAPERS
As executive editor, Bradlee’s push in 1971 for the Post to publish the Pentagon Papers, a secret study of the Vietnam War, in the face of strong government opposition, helped prepare the newspaper for the tough decisions to come in unraveling the Watergate scandal that toppled President Richard Nixon. “After the Pentagon Papers, there would be no decision too difficult for us to overcome together,” he said.
HE OVERSAW COVERAGE OF WATERGATE
As executive editor, Bradlee lived the Watergate scandal from the 1972 break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate building through the 1974 resignation of Nixon and the jailing of more than 40 people. In the beginning, the going was tough. “For six weeks after the break-in, we were flailing, searching everywhere for any information that might shed any light, unaware that we were up against a massive cover-up being orchestrated by the White House.”
HE WAS IN ON ONE OF AMERICA’S BEST-KEPT SECRETS
Bradlee was one of the few people who knew the identity of the Watergate source known as Deep Throat early on. He said he never told a soul. In 2005, Deep Throat was publicly identified as former FBI official W. Mark Felt. “I think he did a great service to society,” Bradlee said then.