Ben Bradlee

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Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee
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Benjamin C.Bradlee
Journalist, Politician
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Benjamin Crowninshield "Ben" Bradlee (August 26, 1921 – October 21, 2014) was executive editor of The Washington Post from 1968 to 1991.

Residence Laird-Dunlop House,Washington, D.C.

Nationality American

Education - Dexter School, St. Marks School

Alma mater Harvard College

Occupation Executive Editor; Vice President at-large of The Washington Post

Employer The Washington Post

Known for Role in exposing the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate scandal


Jean Saltonstall (m. 1942; divorced)
Antoinette Pinchot (m. 1957; divorced)
Sally Quinn (m. 1978–2014; his death)


Ben Jr., Dominic (Dino), Marina,Quinn


  • Choate family
  • Crowninshield family
  • Sargent family
  • Putnam family

He became a national figure during the presidency of Richard Nixon, when he challenged the federal government over the right to publish the Pentagon Papers and oversaw the publication of Bob Woodward's and Carl Bernstein's stories documenting the Watergate scandal. At his death he held the title of vice president at-large of The Washington Post.

He was also an advocate for education and the study of history, including working for years as an active trustee on the boards of several major educational, historical, and archeological research institutions.

When Bradlee married for the first time, it was to Jean Saltonstall. They married on August 8, 1942, and had one son, Ben Bradlee Jr., who was raised in Cambridge by his mother and her second husband, Bill Haussermann. Ben Bradlee, Jr. is a former deputy managing editor of The Boston Globe.

Early life, education and ancestry

A member of the Boston Brahmin Crowninshield family, Bradlee was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on August 26, 1921. His father was Frederick Josiah Bradlee, Jr. (1892–1970), a direct descendant of Nathan Bradley – the first American Bradley, born in the colony of Massachusetts in 1631. His mother, Josephine de Gersdorff (1896–1975), was awarded the French Legion of Honor for helping keep children safe from Nazi Germany during World War II. Bradlee's maternal grandfather, Carl August de Gersdorff (1865–1944), the son of a German immigrant, was a wealthy New York lawyer. Bradlee's maternal grandmother was Helen Suzette Crowninshield (1868–1941), daughter of artist Frederic Crowninshield (1845–1918), another member of the Crowninshield family. His great-great-uncle was American lawyer and Ambassador Joseph Hodges Choate; and his great-uncle (and cousin twice removed) was Francis "Frank" Welch Crowninshield, the creator and editor of Vanity Fair, and a roommate of Condé Nast.

Josephine de Gersdorff, Bradlee's mother, was a direct descendant of Heinrich XXIX, Count of Reuss-Ebersdorf, who was a lineal descendant of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, King John of Denmark and King John II of France and Bonne of Bohemia and John V, Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst. Bradlee's maternal great grandfather was Dr. Ernst Bruno von Gersdorff, who was a third cousin of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom through Heinrich XXIX.

Bradlee, the second of three children, grew up in a wealthy family with domestic staff. With his brother, Freddy, and sister, Constance, he learned French, took piano lessons and went to the symphony and the opera. The stock market crash of 1929 decimated the family's wealth. During the Great Depression, Bradlee's father worked odd jobs to support his family, including keeping the books for various clubs and institutions and supervising the janitors at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Bradlee attended Dexter School before finishing at St. Mark's School, where he played varsity baseball.[9] While attending St. Mark's School, he contracted polio. He exercised regularly at home and developed strong arms and chest. He was able to fight off the effects of polio and could walk without limping. Thereafter he attended Harvard College, where he was a Greek-English major and joined the Naval ROTC.

World War II

Bradlee received his naval commission two hours after graduating in 1942, joined the Office of Naval Intelligence, and worked as a communications officer in the Pacific during World War II. His duties included handling classified and coded cables, serving primarily on the destroyer USS Philip DD-498 fighting off the shore of Guam and arriving at Guadalcanalwith the Second Fleet. Bradlee's main battles were Vella Lavella, Saipan, Tinian, and Bougainville. He also fought in the biggest naval battle ever fought, the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines Campaign, in the Borneo Campaign, and made every landing in the Solomon Islands campaign.

Post-World War II

After the war, in 1946, Bradlee Sr. became a reporter at the New Hampshire Sunday News, a venture he helped launch. After he sold the paper, in 1948 he started working for The Washington Post as a reporter. He got to know associate publisher Philip Graham, who was the son-in-law of the publisher, Eugene Meyer. On November 1, 1950, Bradlee was alighting from a streetcar in front of the White House just as two Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to shoot their wayinto Blair House in an attempt to kill President Harry S. Truman. In 1951 Graham helped Bradlee become assistantpress attaché in the American embassy in Paris, France.

Government work

In 1952 Bradlee joined the staff of the Office of U.S. Information and Educational Exchange (USIE), the embassy's propaganda unit. USIE produced films, magazines, research, speeches, and news items for use by the CIA throughout Europe. USIE (later known as USIA) also controlled the Voice of America, a means of disseminating pro-American "cultural information" worldwide. While at the USIE, according to a Justice Department memo from an assistant U.S. attorney in the Rosenberg Trial, Bradlee was helping the CIA manage European propaganda regarding the spying conviction and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on June 19, 1953.

Bradlee was officially employed by USIE until 1953, when he began working for Newsweek. While based in France, Bradlee divorced his first wife and married Antoinette Pinchot in 1957. At the time of the marriage, Antoinette's sister,Mary Pinchot Meyer, was married to Cord Meyer, a key figure in Operation Mockingbird, a CIA program to influence the media. Antoinette Bradlee was also a close friend of Cicely d'Autremont, who was married to James Jesus Angleton. Bradlee worked closely with Angleton in Paris. At the time, Angleton was liaison for all Allied intelligence in Europe. His deputy was Richard Ober, a fellow student with Bradlee at Harvard University.

In 1957, while working as a reporter for Newsweek, Bradlee created controversy when he interviewed members of the FLN. They were Algerian guerrillas who were in rebellion against the French government at the time. According to Deborah Davis, author of Katharine the Great about Katharine Graham, this had all the "earmarks of an intelligence operation". As a result of these interviews, Bradlee was given an expulsion order from France. The order was later suspended and finally repealed.

The Washington Post

As a reporter in the 1950s, Bradlee became close friends with then-Senator John F. Kennedy who had graduated from Harvard two years before Bradlee, and lived nearby. Bradlee's wife at the time, Jean Saltonstall, was related to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy through the Auchincloss family. In 1960 Bradlee toured with both Kennedy and Richard Nixon in their presidential campaigns. He later wrote a book, Conversations With Kennedy (W.W. Norton, 1975), recounting their relationship during those years. Bradlee was, at this point, Washington Bureau chief for Newsweek, a position from which he helped negotiate the sale of the magazine to The Washington Post holding company. Bradlee maintained that position until being promoted to managing editor at the Post in 1965. He became executive editor in 1968 and, on October 20, 1978, married fellow journalist Sally Quinn.[2] Quinn and Bradlee have one child, Quinn Bradlee, who was born in 1982 when Quinn was 41 and Bradlee was 61. In 2009, they appeared with Quinn Bradlee on the Charlie Rose show on PBSand spoke of their son's having been born with Velo-cardio-facial syndrome, also known as DiGeorge syndrome and Shprintzen syndrome (named after Dr. Robert Shprintzen, who first identified the disorder in 1978 and also diagnosed Quinn Bradlee).

Bradlee retired as the executive editor of The Washington Post in September 1991, but continued to serve as Vice President At Large until his death. He was succeeded as executive editor at The Washington Post by Leonard Downie, Jr., whom Bradlee had appointed as managing editor seven years earlier.

Under Bradlee's leadership, The Washington Post took on major challenges during the Nixon Administration. In 1971, The New York Times and the Post successfully challenged the government over the right to publish the Pentagon Papers. One year later, Bradlee backed reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they probed the break-in at the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. According to Bradlee: “You had a lot of Cuban or Spanish-speaking guys in masks and rubber gloves, with walkie-talkies, arrested in the Democratic National Committee Headquarters at 2:00 in the morning. What the hell were they in there for? What were they doing? The follow-up story was based primarily on their arraignment in court, and it was based on information given our police reporter, Al Lewis, by the cops, showing them an address book that one of the burglars had in his pocket, and in the address book was the name ‘Hunt’, H-u-n-t, and the phone number was the White House phone number, which Al Lewis and every reporter worth his salt knew. And when, the next day, Woodward—this is probably Sunday or maybe Monday, because the burglary was Saturday morning early—called the number and asked to speak to Mr. Hunt, and the operator said, ‘Well, he's not here now; he's over at’, such-and-such a place, gave him another number, and Woodward called him up, and Hunt answered the phone, and Woodward said, ‘We want to know why your name was in the address book of the Watergate burglars.’ And there is this long, deathly hush, and Hunt said, ‘Oh my God!’ and hung up. So you had the White House.

You have Hunt saying ‘Oh my God!’ At a later arraignment, one of the guys whispered to a judge. The judge said, ‘What do you do?’ and Woodward overheard the words ‘CIA’. So if your interest isn't whetted by this time, you're not a journalist.” Ensuing investigations of suspected cover-ups led inexorably to Congressional committees, conflicting testimonies, and ultimately, to the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974. For decades, Bradlee was one of only four publicly known people who knew the true identity of press informant Deep Throat, the other three being Woodward, Bernstein, and Deep Throat himself, who later revealed himself to be Nixon's FBI Associate Director Mark Felt.

In 1981, Post reporter Janet Cooke won a Pulitzer Prize for "Jimmy's World", a profile of an eight-year-old heroin addict. Cooke's article turned out to be fiction: there was no such addict. As executive editor, Bradlee was roundly criticized in many circles for failing to ensure the article's accuracy. After questions about the story's veracity arose, Bradlee (along with publisher Donald Graham) ordered a "full disclosure" investigation to ascertain the truth. At one point during the investigation, Bradlee angrily compared Cooke with Richard Nixon over her attempted cover-up of the fake story. Bradlee personally apologized to Mayor Marion Barry and the chief of police of Washington, D.C., for the Post's fictitious article. Cooke, meanwhile, was forced to resign and relinquish the Pulitzer.

Other work

Bradlee published an autobiography in 1995, A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures. He had an acting role inBorn Yesterday, the 1993 remake of the 1950 romantic comedy. In 1983, he gave the inaugural Vance Distinguished Lecture at Central Connecticut State University. On May 3, 2006, Bradlee received a Doctor of Humane Letters fromGeorgetown University in Washington, D.C. Prior to receiving the honorary degree, he taught occasional journalism courses at Georgetown.

In 1991 he was persuaded by then-Governor of Maryland William Donald Schaefer to accept chairmanship of the HistoricSt. Mary's City Commission and continued in that position through 2003. He also served for many years as a member of the board of trustees at St. Mary's College of Maryland, and endowed the Benjamin C. Bradlee Annual Lecture in Journalism there. He continued to serve as vice chairman of the school's board of trustees.

In the fall of 2005, Jim Lehrer conducted six hours of interviews with Bradlee on a variety of topics—from the responsibilities of the press to the differences between Watergate and the Valerie Plame case. The interviews were edited for an hour-long documentary, Free Speech: Jim Lehrer and Ben Bradlee, which premiered on PBS on June 19, 2006.

Later life and death

At The Washington Post, Bradlee carried the title "vice president at large". Bradlee and Quinn lived at two homes, theTodd Lincoln House in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., The middle part of the house was built in 1792. They also restoredPorto Bello, their home in Drayden, Maryland.

Bradlee was named as a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama on August 8, 2013, and was presented the medal at a White House ceremony on November 20, 2013.

In late September 2014, Bradlee entered hospice care due to declining health as a result of Alzheimer's disease. He died of natural causes on October 21, 2014, at his home in Washington, D.C., at the age of 93.

Volunteer service

For many years Bradlee served on the Board of Trustees for St. Mary's College of Maryland.[1] He was very active on the board and also played key roles in the establishment of the Center for the Study of Democracy at the college, where he also served on the advisory board.

He is also known for his work on the board of trustees of the Historic St. Mary's City Commission, as well as narrating a documentary produced by the organization on the history of the early Maryland colony.

In popular culture

Actor Jason Robards portrayed Bradlee in the film All the President's Men, winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance. G. D. Spradlin played the role of Bradlee in Dick, a spoof of Watergate. Henderson Forsythe played Bradlee in the romantic comedy Chances Are.


  • Bradlee, Ben. Conversations With Kennedy (W W Norton & Co Inc, November 1, 1984) ISBN 978-0-393-30189-2
  • Bradlee, Ben. A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures (Simon & Schuster, October, 1995) ISBN 978-0-684-80894-9


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