Ben Bradlee, the hard-charging editor who guided The Washington Post through its Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Watergate scandal and invigorated its newsroom for more than two decades, has died.
Mr Bradlee, 93, died at his home of natural causes, the paper said.
As managing editor first and later as executive editor, raspy-voiced Mr Bradlee engineered the transformation of the Post from a sleepy home-town paper into a great national.
He had an early break as a journalist thanks to his friendship with one president, John F Kennedy, and became famous for his role in toppling another, Richard Nixon, helping to guide Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s coverage of the Watergate scandal.
“We shall not see his like again,” Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York said when Mr Bradlee retired from the Post newsroom in 1991, adding that the editor’s standards would endure “for ages hence”.
Actor Jason Robards turned Mr Bradlee into a box-office hit with his Oscar-winning portrayal of the editor in the film All The President’s Men. Mr Bradlee’s marriage in 1978 to Post star reporter Sally Quinn – his third – added more glamour to his image.
He was one of the few to know the identity early on of the celebrated Watergate source dubbed Deep Throat, finally revealed publicly in 2005 as FBI official Mark Felt. “I think he did a great service to society,” Mr Bradlee said.
In enduring partnership with publisher Katharine Graham, Mr Bradlee took a stand for press freedom in 1971 by going forward with publication of the Pentagon Papers, a secret study of the Vietnam War broken by The New York Times, against the advice of lawyers and the entreaties of top government officials.
The ensuing legal battle went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which upheld the right of newspapers to publish the leaked papers.
Mr Bradlee “set the ground rules – pushing, pushing, pushing, not so subtly asking everyone to take one more step, relentlessly pursuing the story in the face of persistent accusations against us and a concerted campaign of intimidation,” Ms Graham recalled in her autobiography.
Last year Mr Bradlee received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama, who saluted him for bringing an intensity and dedication to journalism that served as a reminder that “our freedom as a nation rests on our freedom of the press”.
He was impatient, gruff and profane, but also exuberant, innovative and charismatic.
“Ideas flew out of Ben,” Ms Graham, who died in 2001, said. “He was always asking important ’why’ questions. Ben was tough enough and good enough so that for the most part I not only let him do what he thought was right, I largely agreed with him.”
Ever the newspaperman, Mr Bradlee imagined his own obituary: “Bet me that when I die,” he wrote, “there will be something in my obit about how The Washington Post ’won’ 18 Pulitzer prizes while Bradlee was editor.”
But that, he said, would be bunkum. The Pulitzers were overrated and suspect, he wrote, and it was largely reporters, not newspapers or their editors, who deserved the credit.
Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee was born in 1921, a Boston Brahmin – the city’s traditional upper class – reared in comfort but for family financial setbacks in the Depression and a six-month bout with polio at 14.
He hurried through Harvard in three years to take his place on a Pacific destroyer during the Second World War. On his return in 1945 he helped start a daily newspaper in New Hampshire, but it folded two years later for lack of advertising.
So began what turned out to be a charmed life of newspapering, in which Mr Bradlee seemed always to be in just the right place.
He landed his first job at the Post in 1948 when a rain storm in Baltimore prompted him to skip a job interview there and stay on the train to Washington.
He happened to be on a tram going past Blair House in 1950 when Puerto Rican extremists opened fire on the presidential guest home while President Truman was staying there. Mr Bradlee turned it into a page-one eyewitness story.
Restless at the Post, he left the paper in 1951 to become press attache at the US embassy in Paris. Two years later, he joined Newsweek’s Paris bureau and spent four years as a European correspondent before returning to Washington to write about politics.
He bought a home in Georgetown in 1957, a few months before Senator John F Kennedy and his wife moved in opposite – the beginning of an intimate friendship and a proximity to power that polished his credentials as a journalist and brought him rare insights into government.
His access to Kennedy continued through JFK’s presidency, bringing him scoops and experiences that he ultimately turned into the 1975 book, Conversations With JFK. But it cost him a valued friend, Jackie Kennedy, who thought the book a violation of privacy and stopped speaking to him.
Even in his declining years Mr Bradlee would head over to the Post once a week to have lunch with “the guys” and “talk about the good old days in journalism”, Ms Quinn recounted.
Ms Quinn disclosed last month that her husband had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for several years.
He had four children from three marriages: Benjamin, Dino, Marina and Quinn. His first two marriages, to Jean Saltonstall and Antoinette Pinchot, ended in divorce.
President Obama said today Mr Bradlee was a ``true newspaperman'' who set a standard for honest, objective and meticulous reporting that encouraged many others to enter the profession.