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Ben Bradlee: A Journalist's Journalist

Former Washington Post executive editor Benjamin C. Bradlee was one of the biggest names in journalism. He was so big that when the world thought of him, it pictured Jason Robards, the actor who portrayed Bradlee in the hit 1976 movie All the President's Men.


That Hollywood retelling of how the Post helped break the Watergate scandal popularized Bradlee, who passed away Oct. 21 in Washington at 93, as a real-life version of TV’s Lou Grant — gruff and relentlessly demanding of his reporters but ready to back them in pinch, and unafraid of taking on powerful institutions and people in the interest of democracy.

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Here are some facts about Bradlee and his history-making career.

  • Bradlee was the son of a Boston investment banker who lost his fortune during the Depression.
  • In 1948, he started at the Post as an $80-a-week reporter.
  • As a foreign correspondent for Newsweek in 1956, he was expelled temporarily from France after traveling to French-ruled Algeria in an unsuccessful attempt to interview members of a rebel group.
  • In the late 1950s, Bradlee became a Georgetown neighbor and close friend of U.S. senator and future president John F. Kennedy.
  • Bradlee often tinkered with the opening paragraph of his reporters’ stories but paid less attention to the rest, leading one colleague to joke, “Bennie gets lost after the first 200 words.”
  • In 1978, Bradlee married Sally Quinn, the paper’s former party correspondent.
  • In one of the few blots on Bradlee’s record, the Post was forced to return a Pulitzer Prize after reporter Janet Cooke’s front-page feature about an 8-year-old heroin addict was revealed to be a fabrication.
  • In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded Bradlee the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.


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Here is Robards as Bradlee in All the President's Men.

Photo: Michel du Cille/The Washington Post via Getty Images

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