Following the death of Ben Bradlee, legendary Washington Post Executive Editor, on October 21, I read an article in the Post headlined “The Ben Bradlee we knew: Friend, fierce editor and a truth-seeker above all”. This was written by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame. I was hooked and then delighted by the insider perspective on the media legend. Bradlee, as with most journalists, made a career out of stating the truth. However, for Bradlee, reporting the truth was not just a career – it was a life-long commitment and became his legacy. Bradlee has been credited with transforming not only the Washington Post, but the entire field of journalism.
He was not a man of regret — ever, it seemed. He was never cynical, but persistently skeptical. And the thread that ran through his life — remarkably, without self-righteousness — was reverence for the truth. ~ Woodward and Bernstein
I love the notion of “persistently skeptical.” It conveys a diligence for weeding out assumptions and misinformation and implies tenacity for getting to the heart of the matter. This is the root of candor – seeing, hearing and speaking through the clutter to get directly to the straight truth.
One of the measures of Bradlee’s command was how he dealt with errors and mistakes, perhaps the most uncomfortable responsibility of a journalist. This is a real test of strength, competence and commitment to the truth. ~ Woodward and Bernstein
And of course, mistakes happen, even when we’re at our best. Growth and admiration doesn’t come from never making an error, but from how you handle it. Perhaps what Bradlee knew most importantly above all was that, despite his and everyone else’s best efforts, mistakes would happen and that he would be sure he was in the best place to defend his intentions and actions and acknowledge the mistake.
“How would you like to be remembered?” Sally [Quinn], his wife of 36 years, asked [Bradlee] in an interview for The Post in 2012. His answer is his essence: “To leave a legacy of honesty and to live a life as close to the truth as I can.” ~ Woodward and Bernstein
Because of Bradlee’s commitment to honesty, he courageously approved the publication of the Watergate investigation, one of the last century’s biggest stories and an inflection point in our country’s history.