On Campus: Ben Bradlee Charms, Enlightens At Kent Lecture Steve Libowitz --------------------- Editor The man who took the stage at Shriver Hall Wednesday night to deliver the Kent Lecture didn't look at all like Ben Bradlee. Ben Bradlee was supposed to look like Jason Robards, the Ben Bradlee of the film All The President's Men, the man who seemed as powerful and charismatic and colorful a newspaper man as the man himself could ever possibly be. But in person, Ben Bradlee does a pretty good Bradlee himself. At 74, he stands tall and straight, his shoulders broad, his voice raspy and touched still with a slight Boston accent. His well-lined face, tan and gently rugged, suggests less an outdoorsman's life than a thoroughly traveled life well lived. And that is what he came to Hopkins to talk about. Doubling as the second presentation in the School of Continuing Studies' noncredit Odyssey course Press and Presidents, the former executive editor of The Washington Post was scheduled to discuss Richard Nixon and his tortured relationship with the press. But he made only one reference to the topic. "I want to thank Richard Nixon for his help," he said-- interrupted by a burst of laughter from the audience--"in furthering my career." Amid a few lingering chuckles, he added, "It really is ironic, isn't it, that Nixon, who hated journalists and hated The Washington Post in particular, did so much for our current health?" What Bradlee shared most with his audience were anecdotes about his good life, which also happens to be the topic of his current, best-selling memoir, A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures. "I came to tell you nothing more than what it was like to be editor on the way up, when I got there and on the way after. I don't say down," he said to more laughter. After thanking Nixon for being among those who catapulted him onto the public stage, a place his journalism mentors had cautioned him against years before, Bradlee gave a nod to the image factory that helped make him a celebrity. "And then along came [Robert] Redford and Jason Robards," he said, referring to two of the stars of the film that dramatized the Post's coverage of Watergate. "I tell you, nothing in my otherwise excellent education prepares you for watching some guy swaggering around, using the "F" word repeatedly ..." He gave a stab at mimicking a nuance of Robard's bravado performance. "I didn't know how to handle that. "I would have kind of liked to have seen the movie in the theaters, but I was scared I would have been spotted by people who would say, 'Look at that poor guy ... he goes there every Saturday morning,'" he said, with a stand-up comic's deft timing. Again, the audience laughed heartily. And that's how the evening went. Bradlee primarily punctuating his résumé with humorous anecdotes and the audience responding gleefully. But for a twist of fate at the beginning of his journalism career, Ben Bradlee might have ended up at the Baltimore Sun. He was looking for work after being fired from his first newspaper job in New Hampshire by publisher William Loeb. He had letters of introduction to editors at The Sun and the Post. But when his train stopped at Baltimore's Penn Station in 1948, it was raining. "It's true I didn't show up for my interview at the Sun," he said. "But you can't believe how hard it was raining.... A man could have gotten hurt it was raining so hard." But as has been the case all his life, Bradlee's luck and timing were impeccable. He got the job at the Post in 1948 as a reporter, leaving it in 1951 to join the U.S. Embassy in Paris. In 1953 he was named Newsweek's foreign correspondent, returning to the magazine's Washington bureau in 1957. And that's where he remained until 1965 when he joined the Post at the invitation of owner Katherine Graham, whose publisher husband, Phil, had the year before committed suicide, leaving the paper's future in turmoil. "Those were fantastic years," he said. And he gave the audience a glimpse of the history that passed across his editor's desk until his retirement in 1991: JFK... The two met while strolling baby carriages, Bradlee said. He had just returned from Europe, and the junior senator from Massachusetts had just moved his family into the Bradlees' Georgetown neighborhood. They quickly formed a close friendship, which would make it both easy for the newspaperman to have intimate access to a president and difficult for him to maintain complete objectivity, or at least the appearance of it. Bradlee doesn't apologize for his relationship with JFK, or for not reporting on what has become the well-known secret of Kennedy's marital infidelities while president. "I probably saw Jack 130 times during his 1,000 days as president, and 95 percent of those times we were with our wives, either at dinner or at our homes," Bradlee said. "And believe me, on those occasions we never discussed the president's extracurricular activities ... or anyone's," he concluded wryly. Watergate. "I always had to worry a little about Woodward and Bernstein," he said affectionately of the two Post reporters whose investigative reporting led to Nixon's resignation. "They were such extraordinary characters." Bradlee tells the story about Bob Woodward's reliance on his informant, "Deep Throat," during the Watergate investigation. "The source never seemed to get it wrong, so I never asked Woodward to tell me who he was." After the book and the movie about Watergate, Bradlee felt compelled to talk to his reporter about the pressure he would no doubt feel to reveal his source. "So I took him out to the park and sat him down ... and asked him the identity of Deep Throat." At that, the audience began to rustle in anticipation. "And he told me," Bradlee said and paused. "But I won't tell you, so save your breath," he said mischievously. In the brief question-and-answer period that followed his talk, however, Bradlee did offer that "[Deep Throat] is a living male, and Woodward has said he'll identify him after the man dies ... probably the next day ... maybe that same night." Bradlee concluded his talk engaging the audience in a game of "Would you have printed it?" He tells of the time in 1977 when Bob Woodward told his editor that the government was making secret payments--"walking around money"--to Jordan's King Hussein, a long-standing arrangement about which newly elected President Carter swore he was never told. After much deliberation, including a command conversation with the president in the Oval Office, Bradlee decided to run the story. "After all, Carter hadn't known about it, and he had stopped the payments the morning we met in his office. ... I got a handwritten note from him right after that telling me he thought I had done a bad thing. But that was that." A story Bradlee didn't print concerned the existence of a U.S. Intelligence underwater listening device code named the Ivy Bell, which was supplying the government with the position and movement of every active Soviet submarine. When the Soviets finally discovered it, Bradlee was more inclined to run it. "Everyone seemed to know about it now except the American people," he said. Bradlee was told that if he ran the story, the paper would be prosecuted for treason. He recounted how the heat was turned up when then-President Reagan called Post publisher Katherine Graham at home, getting her out of the shower to tell her the consequences that would result if the story ran. "So she's dripping wet and taking notes like mad even though she didn't know what Reagan was talking about. In a few minutes, she realized he didn't know what he was talking about either," Bradlee said. "He was obviously reading from cue cards and kept turning them over and over repeating himself." Bradlee finally decided to run the story anyway before it leaked or someone else picked it up. And the night before it appeared in the Post, NBC ran the story for about a minute and a half. "We figured they gave it about 125 words," Bradlee said. "We can't even clear our throats in 125 words." Taking time at the end of his talk to respond to a few questions, Bradlee said he agreed with the Post's decision to run the Unabomber's statement, gave a resounding thumbs down to Robert MacNamara's apology for the Vietnam War--"Too little too late," he shouted over the audience's applause--and said that he would not discourage his grandson from following him--or his own son--into the newspaper business. "You're looking at a guy who has never gotten bored one day in his job," he said. And by many measures, that is a good life.
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