As national editor of The Washington Post, Ben Bagdikian obtained the secret Pentagon Papers from Daniel Ellsberg after a federal judge ordered The New York Times to stop publishing articles based on their content. The Post published, and the Supreme Court later affirmed the newspapers’ right to publish. Bagdikian later became a journalism professor at University of California, Berkeley, and a critic of the concentration of media companies by conglomerates.
Affiliations (past and present)
Ben Bagdikian remembers how he obtained a copy of the Pentagon Papers, a secret Defense Department history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, leaked by Daniel Ellsberg.
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Born in Turkey as an infant, Bagdikian is carried by his father over snow-covered mountains to escape the massacre of Armenians by Turks.
After graduating as a premed student from Clark University, Bagdikian takes a job as a reporter for the Springfield (Mass.) Morning Union.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Bagdikian volunteers for the Army Air Corps. He serves as an aerial navigator for three years.
Bagdikian takes a job with the Providence Journal, beginning as a labor reporter. He is eventually promoted to foreign correspondent and then chief of the Washington bureau.
While at the Journal, Bagdikian shares the 1953 Pulitzer Prize with fellow reporters for their fast-moving coverage of a bank robbery and police chase that led to the capture of the bandit.
Bagdikian receives a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship , which allows him to spend a year in the Library of Congress researching the history of American journalism.
Bagdikian becomes a contributing editor to the Saturday Evening Post. In his four years there, he writes on such topics as government surveillance and social issues.
While writing for the Saturday Evening Post, Bagdikian digs deep into issues of poverty in the United States, and he uses the research to write his first book, “In the Midst of Plenty: The Poor in America.”
Bagdikian works for two years as project director of the Mass Media Technology Study at the RAND Corporation. His research while at RAND culminates in his next book, “The Information Machines: Their Impact on Men and the Media.” It is during this time that Bagdikian meets former Defense Department official Daniel Ellsberg, then an analyst with high-level clearances at RAND. A few years later, Ellsberg gives him a copy of the secret Pentagon Papers.
Returning to the news business, Bagdikian becomes the assistant managing editor of the national news at The Washington Post.
Bagdikian flies to Boston to meet with Ellsberg after a federal judge restrains The New York Times from publishing articles based on the Pentagon Papers. It is Bagdikian’s RAND connection with Ellsberg that allows the Post to acquire the documents. Bagdikian is also present in the meetings at the home of Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, where reporters and editors were preparing the newspaper’s first articles based on the Pentagon Papers for the next day’s edition while the Post lawyers and others strongly urged against publication. Ultimately, Bradlee and others persuaded Post owner Katharine Graham to publish. The first stories ran on June 18.
Named as ombudsman of The Washington Post, Bagdikian begins investigating prison systems. He goes undercover as a convicted murderer inside a maximum-security prison in Pennsylvania and writes a national investigative piece, “The Shame of Prisons,” on the pathology of American penology.
Later that year, Bagdikian works as a national correspondent for the Columbia Journalism Review.
Bagdikian puts together an anthology of his work, “The Effete Conspiracy and Other Crimes by the Press.”
Bagdikian joins the journalism faculty at the University of California at Berkeley and teaches until he retires in 1990. That year he also writes “Caged: Eight Prisoners and Their Keepers,” an expansion on the undercover prison stories for the Post.
Discussing the consolidation of media outlets by major conglomerates and its effects on the quality of the media, Bagdikian writes “The Media Monopoly.”
While at Berkeley, Bagdikian serves as dean of the Graduate School of Journalism for three years while continuing to teach.
Bagdikian is named dean emeritus of Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
Bagdikian writes “Double Vision: Reflections on My Heritage, Life, and Profession,” both an autobiography and his views on the state of the media.
With the fast-changing circumstances of the media industry, Bagdikian has updated “Media Monopoly” numerous times. At the urging of his publishers, he releases “The New Media Monopoly,” which is similarly themed and also contains entirely new information.
Additional Information and References
- 1951 George Foster Peabody Award
- 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting, Edition Time, shared with editorial staff of Providence Journal and Evening Bulletin
- 1962 John Simon Guggenheim Fellow
- 1975 Sigma Delta Chi National Journalism Award
- 1988 James Madison Award, American Library Association, Coalition on Government Information
- 1992 Rhode Island Journalism Hall of Fame
- “In the Midst of Plenty: The Poor in America.” Boston: Beacon Press, 1964.
- “The Information Machines: Their Impact on Men and the Media.” New York: Harper & Row, 1971.
- “The Effete Conspiracy and Other Crimes by the Press.” New York: Harper & Row, 1972.
- “Caged: Eight Prisoners and Their Keepers.” New York: Harper & Row, 1976.
- “The Media Monopoly.” Boston: Beacon Press, 1990.
- “Double Vision: Reflections on My Heritage, Life, and Profession.” Boston: Beacon Press, 1995.
- “The New Media Monopoly.” Boston: Beacon Press, 2004.
- Bagdikian, Ben. “Double Vision: Reflections on My Heritage, Life, and Profession.” Boston: Beacon Press, 1997.
- Ben Bagdikian website
- Interview with Charles Lewis in Berkeley, Calif., June 19, 2007.
- Notable American Unitarians
- Reporting Civil Rights
- Smith, Ron. “Ethics in Journalism.” Sixth Edition. Malden, Mass: Blackwell, 2008.
- World Information Institute