The Book of the Week is “A Good Life, Newspapering and Other Adventures” by Ben Bradlee, published in 1995.
The author was a descendant of a prominent Boston Brahmin family. Unsurprisingly, his older brother and he both graduated from Harvard; never mind their grades. Then, in the middle of WWII, he was stationed on a Navy destroyer in the Pacific.
After surviving the war, Bradlee and the first of his three wives moved to New Hampshire. He was an integral part of a small, regional Sunday-only newspaper until its demise. Subsequent to that, the Washington Post hired him the first of two times at the tail end of 1948.
Bradlee was at Newsweek when John Kennedy was elected president. Kennedy got along with the press famously, like an old, dear friend. In August 1965, Bradleee became managing editor of the Washington Post. “The newsroom was racist… the mind-set of the Post made the editors ask how much an assignment cost, instead of how much the paper needed the story.” Case in point: The Post was (inexcusably) nearly a week late in reporting on the Watts riots.
Newspapermen at that time had five deadlines a day– in determining which stories would be printed in the morning and evening editions, which story would be on page one, etc. Needless to say, Bradlee’s never-ending work meant he never saw his family. Especially after the Washington Post continued publishing installments of the Pentagon Papers in the summer of 1971, after the New York Times was legally banned from doing so. Not that the Post wasn’t banned, but it was willing to go to the mat for the principle of a free press.
Political turmoil was next on the agenda, with the Watergate break-in, on which the inimitable pair Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein did a thorough investigation and engaged in bold, ongoing disclosure. Bradlee wrote, “The denials exploded all around us all day like incoming artillery shells.” Bob Dole accused the Democrat, liberal-leaning Post of knowingly helping George McGovern’s campaign by alleging that Nixon committed crimes as part of his reelection campaign. The president was a bit resentful of the intrusion on his activities. Just a bit. Bradlee thought it likely that personally and professionally, his own phones were being tapped and he would be subjected to a rigorous IRS audit.
In May 1973, not to be outdone in pettiness, vengefulness and meanness of spirit, Nixon insinuated to the author and others that their lives were in the balance for turning the screws on him. “All of these lies were on-the-record lies, before television cameras, before reporters, on the telephone, before large audiences, in a generation of Washington reporters generally considered by every generation of editors to be the finest reporters in the land.” People complained that the Post would never have investigated JFK the same way it did Nixon, because the liberal media always went after Republicans only, never Democrats. In recent decades, that changed, but the lying has increased, too.
Read the book to learn more about Bradlee’s families, of a dishonest Post employee, and other challenges the author faced. In sum, “…there is really no protection against a skillful liar, who has earned the trust of his or her editors. That is equally true of business, law, medicine, all professions.”