WASHINGTON — Ben Bradlee, the longtime executive editor of The Washington Post during some of its proudest moments, was remembered as a “journalistic warrior” Wednesday during his funeral at Washington National Cathedral.
Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and many government officials and journalists were among hundreds who filled the massive church. Few cities could honor a gruff, profane and aggressive journalist quite like Washington.
Bradlee died last week at 93 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease in recent years.
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were among eight men who paid tribute to the man who led the Post newsroom from 1968 to 1991 — through the coverage of the Watergate scandal that toppled the presidency of Richard Nixon and elevated the newspaper to new heights.
“What is the central part of his character?” Bernstein said. “It’s this: He was not afraid.”
The former Post reporter recalled Bradlee’s unwavering support of his young reporters as they confronted the Nixon administration and faced threats and intimidation.
“We live now in an era where too many of us are not unafraid,” Bernstein said. “The dominant political and media culture is too often geared to the lowest common denominator — make noise, get eyeballs, cover the political battles like a football game and manufacture as much controversy as can be ginned up.”
Woodward, who partnered with Bernstein in covering Watergate and now is an associate editor at the Post, said he loved Bradlee and remembered how he prowled the newsroom like a wolf in search of news, gossip or any signs of hidden truth.
“He was a journalistic warrior, unequaled and probably never to be matched,” Woodward said. “He had the courage of an army, a lion in all seasons. He wanted his newspaper to be like the Navy destroyer he served on in World War II.”
Several years ago, Woodward and Bradlee were invited to speak at the Nixon presidential library in California.
“Ben was astonished that this was happening,” Woodward said. “He could not believe that the world had turned so much.”
“‘Well, how do you like them apples?'” Woodward recalled Bradlee saying.
Other journalists, including Tom Brokaw, also offered tributes.
Post columnist David Ignatius said Bradlee was immensely funny, especially in story meetings.
“If you were too sentimental in making a story pitch, Ben would play an imaginary violin. If you went on too long, Ben would roll his eyes or put his hands to his throat in a choking motion. If you didn’t have the story, he told you to go get it,” Ignatius said. “Being an editor is often mundane and exhausting. Ben made it seem fun. No wonder we all tried so desperately to be like him.”
Donald Graham, whose mother, Katharine Graham, hired Bradlee to lead the newspaper the family controlled until last year, said Bradlee was greater, smarter and even more fun than his reputation.
At times, Bradlee was called a “male chauvinist pig” for his language and style, but he also had the confidence to work for one of the few women leading a major company in the 1960s and 1970s, Graham said.
“The Post staff could be fairly described as hard bitten. They were a group of men and women who proudly had no heroes,” Graham said. “But he was our hero, Benjamin C. Bradlee, and he will be always.”