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Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee (born on August 26, 1921) is a vice president at-large of The Washington Post. As executive editor of the Post from 1968 to 1991, 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 and Carl Bernstein's stories documenting the Watergate scandal.

Early life

Bradlee was born in Boston, Massachusettsmarker and attended Dexter Schoolmarker before finishing at St. Mark's School. His father was Frederick Josiah Bradlee Jr., who was on the first All American football team, which was at Harvard; he played football all four years from 1942–1945. He is a direct descendant of John Bradley, who was the first of the Bradleys to come to America and helped build what is now Dorchester, Massachusettsmarker in 1630. There are three sources stating that the Bradlees are responsible for the planning and execution of the Boston Tea Party; and Sarah Bradlee, who later became Sarah Bradlee Fulton, is remembered as the Mother of the Boston Tea Party. One of the references is at Bradlee attended Harvard Collegemarker, where he majored in classical Greek, was a meremember of the AD Club, a prominent final club, joined Naval ROTC, and was and remains part of Grant's longitudinal psychological study. Bradlee's mother, Josephine deGersdorff, was awarded the Legion of Honor for helping keep children safe from Nazi Germany and France during World War II. Josephine's father, Carl deGersdorff, was a wealthy New York lawyer. His great great uncle was Joseph Hodges Choate, who was an American lawyer and the American ambassador to Great Britain from 1899–1905, and his great uncle was Franis (Frank) Welch Crowninshield, who was the creator and editor of Vanity Fair, and the roommate of Conde Nast. Bradlee married Jean Saltonstall, and received his naval commission two hours after graduating in 1942.

Bradlee joined the Office of Naval Intelligence and worked as a communications officer in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. His duties included handling classified and coded cables. The main ship on which Bradlee served was a destroyer, the . He fought off the shores of Guammarker and arrived at Guadalcanalmarker with the Second Fleet; his main battles were Vella Lavella, Saipanmarker, Tinianmarker, and Bougainville. He also fought in the biggest naval battle ever fought, the Battle of Leyte Gulfmarker in the Philippinesmarker. He made every landing in the Solomon Islands campaign and Philippines campaign.

After the war, in 1946, Bradlee became a reporter at the New Hampshire Sunday News, a venture he helped launch. 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 Eugene Meyer, publisher of the newspaper. In 1951 Graham helped Bradlee become assistant press 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. 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, now working as a reporter for Newsweek, Bradlee created a great deal of controversy when he interviewed members of the FLN. They were Algerianmarker 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; however, the order was suspended and finally repealed.

Washington Post

As a reporter in the 1950s, Bradlee became close friends with then-Senator John F. Kennedy, who lived nearby. In 1960 he 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 married fellow journalist Sally Quinn in 1978. Bradlee retired as executive editor in September 1991, but continues to serve as (Vice President At Large) of the paper. Mr. Bradlee's long-time executive assistant at The Washington Post was Carol Leggitt.

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 Hotelmarker. 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.

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 based on a 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 coverup 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 in Born Yesterday, the 1993 remake of the 1950 romantic comedy.

On May 3, 2006, Bradlee received a Doctor of Humane Letters from Georgetown Universitymarker 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 Historic St. Mary's Citymarker Commission and continued in that position through 2003. He also served for 12 years as a member of the board of trustees at St. Mary's College of Marylandmarker, and endowed the Benjamin C. Bradlee Annual Lecture in Journalism there. He continues to serve as the 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 called Free Speech: Jim Lehrer and Ben Bradlee, which premiered on PBS on June 19, 2006.


Bradlee serves on The Washington Post's editorial board as vice president at large. Bradlee lives at his home, the Todd Lincoln Housemarker in Georgetown, Washington, DCmarker, The middle part of the house was built in 1792.

Depiction 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.


  • A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures
  • Conversations With Kennedy
  • That Special Grace
  • The Ambush Murders
  • Prophet of Blood: The Untold Story of Ervil LeBaron and the Lambs of God (with Dale Van Atta)


  1. St. Mary's College of Maryland Board of Trustees from the college's website

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