Ben Bradlee, the legendary editor of The Washington Post who oversaw Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s Watergate investigations, has died. The editor, who had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in recent years, had been moved to hospice care in late September due to declining health. He died of natural causes in his home, according to The Washington Post. He was 93.
During his time at the Post, between 1968 and 1991, Bradlee fostered a cutthroat determination to bring the truth to the paper’s readers by pushing the limits of investigative journalism beyond the scope of papers at the time in ways that have resounded in newspapers and magazines in the decades since. He also established correspondents for the paper nationally and internationally and developed the paper’s “Style” section. The paper won 17 Pulitzer Prizes during his time as an editor there.
In 1971, Bradlee – who was the paper’s executive editor – published portions of the Pentagon Papers, which detailed the United States’ political and military actions in Vietnam and were also published in The New York Times. Despite the protests of the Nixon Administration, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the papers’ decision to publish them.
A few years later, the editor worked with Woodward and Bernstein in exposing the 1972 wiretapping of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel by a committee seeking to reelect President Richard Nixon, which paved the way to the president’s resignation. During the investigations, Bradlee was one of four people who knew the identity of Woodward and Bernstein’s informant who went by the name “Deep Throat” and was later confirmed to be FBI associate director William Mark Felt. In the movie All the President’s Men (1976), about Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate investigations, actor Jason Robards portrayed Bradlee.
Bradlee, who was born in Boston in 1921, attended Harvard and served in the Navy during World War II, according to CNN. Upon returning home, he began reporting for a newspaper he helped launch, New Hampshire Sunday News, in 1946. Two years later, he served as a reporter for The Washington Post. Bradlee also worked for a propaganda unit of the United States government, working out of the country’s embassy in Paris, and reported for Newsweek. After becoming the Washington bureau chief for that magazine, he helped work out the sale of Newsweek to The Washington Post. He re-joined the Post’s staff in 1965 as managing editor and became the paper’s executive editor three years later.
During his lifetime, Bradlee published two books: Conversations With Kennedy, which came out in 1984, chronicled his relationship with President John F. Kennedy before his presidency, and his memoir, A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures, which came out in 1995.
President Obama presented Bradlee with the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the United States’ highest civilian award – in 2013. “For Benjamin Bradlee, journalism was more than a profession – it was a public good vital to our democracy,” Obama said in a statement following Bradlee’s death. “A true newspaperman, he transformed the Washington Post into one of the country’s finest newspapers, and with him at the helm, a growing army of reporters published the Pentagon Papers, exposed Watergate, and told stories that needed to be told – stories that helped us understand our world and one another a little bit better.
“The standard he set – a standard for honest, objective, meticulous reporting – encouraged so many others to enter the profession,” Obama continued. “And that standard is why, last year, I was proud to honor Ben with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Today, we offer our thoughts and prayers to Ben’s family, and all who were fortunate to share in what truly was a good life.”
Over the past few months, as Bradlee’s health declined, he ended his routine of visiting the paper weekly; at the time of his death, Bradlee was vice-president at large for The Washington Post. He also stopped attending his Alzheimer’s and dementia support group meetings, according to The Washington Post. Even as his health deteriorated, his wife, Sally Quinn, reported that Bradlee remained in good spirits.
“Ben has never been depressed a day in his life,” she told C-Span in late September. “I’ve been with him 41 years and I’ve never seen him depressed. He’s just very happy.”