Benjamin Bradlee, as executive editor of one of the country’s most prestigious daily newspapers, went on to make history with his groundbreaking journalism and investigations. He is credited with publishing the infamous Pentagon papers and revealing the Watergate presidential scandal as one of the most prominent newspaper journalists of his period. During his 26-year employment, he contributed news stories and reports that helped turn ‘The Post’ from an average traditional newspaper to an influential and reputable metropolitan daily. Though on the back end, his views and involvement in meetings and conferences aided in the shaping of America, particularly during the postwar period. With journalism in his blood, he was nothing short of bright, charming, and willing to lead, which only added to his unique and engaging methods of covering stories, making him an inspiration to his colleagues and coworkers. This larger-than-life figure, who saw journalism as more than just a job, was also involved in many educational, historical, and archeological institutions. After his death, American President Barack Obama referred to him as a “genuine newspaperman.”
Childhood and Adolescence
Crowninshield, Benjamin Bradlee was born on August 26, 1921, in Boston, Massachusetts, to the Boston Brahmin Crowninshield family, a well-to-do family with roots in the Massachusetts Bay Colony stretching back three centuries.
Frederick Josiah Bradlee Jr., his father, was a banker, and Josephine de Gersdorff, his mother, was a French Legion of Honor awardee.
When the stock market crashed in 1929, along with the family’s wealth, the family’s easy life came to an abrupt halt. During the Great Depression, his father worked odd jobs to help maintain his family.
He attended Dexter School in his early years and eventually transferred to St. Mark’s School in Southborough, Massachusetts when he faced yet another life-altering catastrophe.
He was diagnosed with polio in 1936, which crippled his legs for a brief time, but he fought back and acquired strong arms, legs, and chest muscles via daily exercise.
In 1939, he enrolled in Harvard College, where he majored in Greek and English and entered the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) program, continuing the legacy of his 51 relatives.
Ben Bradlee’s Career
He graduated in 1942 and went to work for the Office of Naval Intelligence, where he spent three years as a communications officer on the destroyer USS Philip during WWII, handling classified and coded cables.
When the war ended in 1946, he went into journalism as a reporter for the New Hampshire Sunday News, which he founded.
In 1948, he sold the paper to William Loeb III and went to work for The Washington Post as a crime reporter, which forever transformed his and the newspaper’s lives.
Philip Graham, an associate publisher, became a friend and helped him get a job as an assistant press attaché in the American embassy in Paris in 1951.
In 1952, he joined the US Information and Educational Exchange (USIE), where he transmitted CIA-directed European propaganda, which led to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg’s alleged spying and execution in June 1953.
He began his career as a foreign correspondent for Newsweek in 1954. His contentious interview with Algeria’s secret anti-French guerilla warriors resulted in his exile from the country. He returned to Newsweek in Washington and resumed his job.
He met then-Senator John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, in 1959, and the two became fast friends, lasting until Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.
When Kennedy was elected president in 1961, he became the bureau head, following which he persuaded Graham to buy Newsweek, a deal that changed the course of both Newsweek and The Washington Post’s lives.
He was elevated to managing editor in 1965 after four years as a bureau chief, and then executive editor in 1968, a position he kept until September 1991. He continued to serve as Vice-President after that.
His Major Projects
In 1971, he and Katharine Graham, who took over the paper after her husband Philip Graham committed suicide, published the Pentagon Papers, a classified analysis of the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, and won the case in the Supreme Court.
In June 1972, he backed two young journalists, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who were covering the burglary at the DNC headquarters in the White House’s Watergate complex.
Richard Nixon was forced to resign from the presidency in 1974 as a result of investigations proving his involvement in a campaign to gain a second term, making him the first president in US history to do so.
Achievements & Awards
The Washington Post won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1973 for its coverage of the Watergate scandal. The publication, which had previously won four prizes, went on to win 17 more during his tenure.
For his journalism courses, he got the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Georgetown University in 2006.
In 2007, the French government presented him with the country’s highest honor, the French Legion of Honor, in Paris.
In November 2013, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, for his outstanding contributions to journalism at The Washington Post.
‘That Special Grace’ (1964) and ‘Conversations with Kennedy’ (1965) are two books he wrote about President John F. Kennedy (1975).
‘A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures,’ his book, was published in 1995.
Personal History and Legacy
When he was commissioned as a navy lieutenant in 1942, he married his first wife, Jean Saltonstall. Benjamin C. Bradlee Jr. of Boston, the couple’s son, worked as the deputy managing editor of The Boston Globe.
He divorced his first wife and married Antoinette Pinchot Pittman in 1957 while working in France. Dominic Bradlee and Marina Murdock are the couple’s two children. In 1975, he divorced Antoinette.
Sally Quinn, a young reporter 20 years his junior who was hired in The Post’s Style section, became a close friend of his. In 1975, he divorced Antoinette and married Sally three years later in 1878, giving birth to Quinn Bradlee.
In September 2014, his health began to deteriorate, and he was admitted to the hospital with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. He died on October 21, 2014, at the age of 93, at his residence in Washington, DC.
His burial was held on October 29 at Washington National Cathedral, and he was laid to rest in Washington, D.C.’s Oak Hill Cemetery.
The Watergate scandal was re-enacted in 1976 in the Oscar-winning film ‘All the President’s Men,’ with Jason Robards as Bradlee.
‘Yours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee,’ written by Jeff Himmelman, an ex-reporter at The Washington Post, describes his personal life, exclusive interviews, connections with coworkers, and his 45-year significant career.
Estimated Net worth
Ben is one of the wealthiest journalists and one of the most well-known. Ben Bradlee’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.
He was born into a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant Boston family whose ancestors may be traced back to the 16th-century Massachusetts colonists.
In 1963, two events changed his life forever: Philip Graham’s death in August following a long battle with bipolar disease, and John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas in November.
In July 2001, he expressed his love for Mrs. Graham at her funeral, but the relationship never progressed to the next level.