Ben Bradlee, the zestful, charismatic Washington Post editor who guided the paper through the era of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate and was immortalized on screen in "All the President's Men," has died. He was 93.
Bradlee began end-of-life care at his home last month after suffering from Alzheimer's disease and dementia for several years. He was the executive editor of The Washington Post from 1968 to 1991, during which time the paper covered the downfall of President Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal.
"He was diagnosed a while ago, but it became obvious that he had a serious problem about two years ago," his wife, Washington Post columnist Sally Quinn, said in a recent C-SPAN interview.
In November, President Barack Obama awarded Bradlee the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor awarded to civilians.
"Ben was a true friend and genius leader in journalism," Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein - the Post duo who broke and pursued the Watergate story - said in a statement. "He forever altered our business. His one unbending principle was the quest for the truth and the necessity of that pursuit."
Bradlee was, in his way, Washington royalty: friend to John F. Kennedy, overseer of the capital's most important newspaper, a mover and shaker in a tailored suit. In one era, when politicians and journalists were chummier, he kept the capital's secrets; in another, he exposed them. He was descended from Boston Brahmins and easily hobnobbed with the wealthy and eminent.
Still, even as he became one of them, Bradlee always maintained his skepticism of Washington power players. And it only grew stronger over time.
In a 1995 interview with CNN's Larry King, Bradlee said he had observed "an enormous increase in not telling the truth, lying" during his career covering government. Asked whether it was Democrats or Republicans who lied more, Bradlee said, "Well, the whole mob."
It was a pair of scandals that made Bradlee a national figure.
In 1971, the Post and The New York Times decided to publish thePentagon Papers, leaked classified documents that showed that the war in Vietnam was not going as political leaders and the military brass portrayed it. Bradlee, publisher Katharine Graham and the Post fought the objections of Richard Nixon's administration all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld the newspapers' right to publish the documents.
The editor said the fight propelled the Post into the upper echelons of American journalism.
"The Post was still looking for a seat at the big table," he recalled. "We weren't at the big table yet. We very much wanted to go there."
A year later, Post reporters Bernstein and Woodward led the way in unraveling Watergate, the story of the break-in and coverup that ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
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