Ben Bradlee, former executive editor of the Washington Post, died Tuesday at his home in Washington, D.C., of natural causes. He was 93.
Bradlee was born Aug. 26, 1921, in Boston. After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he worked as a reporter at the New Hampshire Sunday News and later at the Washington Post. Bradlee was editor of the Post from 1968 to 1991, and during Richard Nixon's presidency he rose to national prominence when he oversaw the publication of the Pentagon Papers -- in the face of enormous government pressure not to publish. He also oversaw the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Watergate scandal, which ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation in 1974. The paper was virtually alone in staying on the trail of the Watergate break-in and subsequent cover-up, a vulnerable position for editor Bradlee and the Post's owner, Katharine Graham. After Nixon resigned, Mrs. Graham wrote to Bradlee: “We were only saved from extinction by someone mad enough not only to tape himself but to tape himself talking about how to conceal it.”
Under Bradlee’s watch, the Post broadened its network of news bureaus across the U.S. and around the world and became Washington’s preeminent newspaper. The paper won 18 Pulitzer prizes during his tenure. But the Pulitzers also marked a low point of his long career, when the paper was forced to return one after it was revealed that the prize-winning story of a heroin-addicted little boy had been fabricated by the reporter.
He wrote in a 1995 memoir, “A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures,” that when he set about building up the newsroom, he was determined “that a Washington Post reporter would be the best in town on every beat.”
His championship of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, who broke the Watergate stories, helped glamorize the profession and draw in a generation of eager young investigative reporters.
In August 2013, Bradlee received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an honor awarded to individuals whose work has had cultural significance. It is the highest honor given to civilians. President Barack Obama oversaw the ceremony at the White House in November.
Bradlee suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia for several years leading up to his death, his wife, Sally Quinn, revealed in an interview with C-SPAN on Sept. 28. She said Bradlee had been losing his memory and had trouble recalling basic facts about his life.
"He was diagnosed a while ago, but it became obvious that he had a serious problem about two years ago," Quinn said during the interview. Bradlee was placed on hospice care at his home last week.