Ink Out Loud: There’s not many men like Ben
The campground at Lake Sunapee was packed with families swimming, roasting marshmallows, eating Spam and playing the Captain Fantastic pinball machine in the recreation room.
Steve and I had our Pro Keds positioned on a log next to the orange and turquoise tent that resembled a hillbilly Howard Johnsons. We were building a village for red ants with sticks when our dad hollered and waved his hand, “Come quick, come here and listen. This is history.”
I remember President Richard Nixon saying, “In all the decisions I have made in my public life, I have always tried to do what was best for the nation. Throughout the long and difficult period of Watergate, I have felt it was my duty to persevere, to make every possible effort to complete the term of office to which you elected me. In the past few days, however, it has become evident to me that I no longer have a strong enough political base in the Congress to justify continuing that effort. As long as there was such a base, I felt strongly that it was necessary to see the constitutional process through to its conclusion, that to do otherwise would be unfaithful to the spirit of that deliberately difficult process and a dangerously destabilizing precedent for the future.”
It was Aug. 8, 1974 and dad had the radio turned way up in the Volvo station wagon. We listened to the whole speech, even though it drained the battery in the car.
It was this memory that instantly emerged when I heard of Ben Bradlee’s recent death. Bradlee was the brave and honorable editor who stopped all of America in its routine. Bradlee’s leadership was responsible for Nixon’s surrender.
In May of 1973, Bradlee wrote the words he surely lived by, words that shaped my perception of the field of journalism: “As long as a journalist tells the truth, in conscience and fairness, it is not his job to worry about consequences. The truth is never as dangerous as a lie in the long run. I truly believe the truth sets men free.”
Bradlee led The Washington Post in a fearless confrontation with the Nixon White House. He stood solid as rock behind two reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who uncovered the biggest story in American politics — The Watergate scandal — the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. The Nixon administration attempted to cover-up its involvement. All sorts of unconstitutional shenanigans were afoot including bugging of the offices of political opponents, harassment of activist groups and political figures, using the FBI, the CIA, and the IRS, which in the end led to the indictment of 69 people and the only resignation of a U.S. President to date.
The day Bradlee died, I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed reading the posts of my journalist friends — the many tributes to him, stories about how he inspired people with his hardcore integrity and his unfaltering ethical fiber. I envied those of my friends who were fortunate enough to have worked with him or met him. Ben Bradlee’s was a life well-lived.
One friend’s post read: “Like so many journalists my age, I got into the business because of “All The President’s Men.” I was 9 when I saw it with my parents, and that was it for me. As far as I was concerned, Ben Bradlee made Darth Vader seem like a crashing bore. Decades later, I became the editor of washingtonpost.com and got to know Ben. He used to come meet with the washingtonpost.com newsroom once a year. The day of one of those visits, I got a call from his assistant saying that his ride to Arlington had fallen through, and that someone would need to come downtown to pick him up. I immediately delegated the task — to myself. I then proceeded to drive Ben from 15th Street to Arlington via Richmond in order to be able to spend some time talking shop with him. I won’t lie and say I knew Ben real well, but my limited interactions were enough to convince me that the path he helped send me down in 1976 was well worth it. RIP Ben, and congrats on a mark well made.”
Mandy Feder is the Managing Editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 530-541-8006.
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