Ben Bradlee dies at 93


Ben Bradlee, the legendary editor who led The Washington Post during the Watergate scandal, died Tuesday, according to the newspaper. He was 93.

Bradlee’s 23-year tenure as the Post’s executive editor will forever be associated with the events that brought down President Nixon.


The story was revealed by Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein with the vigorous support of Bradlee, and concluded with Nixon’s resignation in August 1974, 26 months after the Post had published its first story about a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington. 

At the beginning, Nixon’s White House press secretary, Ron Ziegler, played down the matter as a “third-rate burglary attempt.” In the end, it resulted in guilty verdicts against 48 people. Many of them — including Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman and White House aide John Ehrlichman — served prison terms.

The story made celebrities out of Woodward and Bernstein, and of Bradlee himself. Jason Robards played Bradlee in the hit movie about the saga, “All the President’s Men.”

Watergate was not the first major story in which Bradlee was a central player, however. 

In 1971, the Post and The New York Times published articles based upon “the Pentagon Papers,” a hitherto-secret Department of Defense study of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The Nixon administration took legal action to prevent further stories based on the material, and the case went to the Supreme Court. The justices backed the newspapers by a 6-3 majority.

After stepping down from the helm at the Post, Bradlee was given the title of vice president at-large at the newspaper, which he held until his death.

President Obama, who awarded Bradlee with the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year, called the long-time editor “a true newspaperman” in a statement released soon after his death. 

“For Benjamin Bradlee, journalism was more than a profession — it was a public good vital to our democracy,” Obama said. “The standard he set — a standard for honest, objective, meticulous reporting — encouraged so many others to enter the profession.”

Obama hailed the famed editor in a statement last year after earning the nation’s highest civilian honor.

“With Ben in charge, the Post published the Pentagon Papers, revealing the true history of America’s involvement in Vietnam; exposed Watergate; unleashed a new era of investigative journalism, holding America’s leaders accountable and reminding us that our freedom as a nation rests on our freedom of the press,” Obama said.

Bradlee was born into a prominent Boston Brahmin family in 1921. During the Second World War, he served in the Navy. Later, in Washington, he became friendly with John F. Kennedy. The two men lived on the same block in the Georgetown neighborhood during the latter’s time as a senator.

Bradlee went on to be a central figure in the city’s media and political landscape for more than half a century. In 1995, he published an autobiography, A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures.

Bradlee’s health had been in decline for some time. His wife, Sally Quinn, told C-SPAN last month that he was in hospice care. He had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for several years.

Quinn, Bradlee’s third wife, survives him, as do his children, Ben Bradlee Jr., Dominic "Dino" Bradlee, Marina Murdock and Quinn Bradlee. 

His two previous marriages, to the late Jean Saltonstall and the late Antoinette Pinchot, ended in divorce.

—This post was updated at 9:51 p.m.