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Ben  Bradlee

Executive editor of the Washington Post from 1968 to 1991, Ben Bradlee led the newspaper through its publication of the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate scandal. Before becoming executive editor, Bradlee worked for Newsweek as a foreign correspondent and the Washington bureau chief. He had a close friendship with President John F. Kennedy, which he wrote about in two books. He is currently a vice president at large for the Post.

Career Timeline

Graduating from Harvard with a bachelor’s degree in English and Greek, Bradlee is commissioned in the U.S. Naval Reserve on the same day.1

Bradlee works in the Combat Information Center aboard the USS Philip for two years, stationed in the Pacific Theater during World War II.2  In his third year, Bradlee becomes a training officer.3

After the war, Bradlee helps to found the New Hampshire Sunday News, a small paper in Manchester. The paper lasts 25 months before folding. Despite higher circulation than other New Hampshire daily papers, it could not attract needed advertising.4

After the paper folds, Bradlee plans to go for two job interviews, one with the Baltimore Sun and the other with The Washington Post. Rain deters Bradlee from his interview in Baltimore, so he interviews only at the Post. Bradlee gets a reporting job there for $80 a week.5

With the assistance of old contacts from the New Hampshire Sunday News, Bradlee takes a job as the first assistant to the press attaché for the U.S. Embassy in Paris.6

Remaining in Paris, Bradlee leaves the embassy to become European correspondent for Newsweek.7

Bradlee travels to Algeria to interview members of an Algerian guerrilla group, the FLN. The interview falls through, but when Bradlee returns to Paris he is arrested by French police and told he must leave the country within 48 hours. Friends in the U.S. Embassy and French press help overturn the decision. 8

Bradlee returns to Washington, D.C., and continues to work for Newsweek.9

Moving to Georgetown, Bradlee becomes a neighbor of Sen. John F. Kennedy. Bradlee’s friendship with Kennedy becomes an important relationship for his career. Newsweek assigns Bradlee to cover Kennedy’s presidential campaign and then his presidency.10

Upset with the ownership of Newsweek, Bradlee contacts Post owner Phil Graham about buying the magazine. Just 17 days later, Graham purchases Newsweek for $15 million and Bradlee is made the newsmagazine’s Washington bureau chief.11

Bradlee writes his first of two books about Kennedy, “That Special Grace.”

After Phil Graham ends his own life in 1963, his widow, Katharine Graham, assumes control of the Post and Newsweek. She asks Bradlee if he will return to the Post, and Bradlee, itching at the Newsweek routine, says that he wants Al Friendly’s position of managing editor. Graham makes an offer, promising the position within a year, and Bradlee rejoins the Post as deputy managing editor for national and international affairs. Three months later, Al Friendly retires and Bradlee becomes managing editor.12

Graham appoints Bradlee executive editor of the Post, succeeding Russ Wiggins.13

Four days after The New York Times publishes the first portion of the Pentagon Papers and is barred from publishing by the courts, Bradlee and the Post obtain a copy of the papers via the newspaper’s national editor, Ben Bagdikian. A debate about whether to print occurs in Bradlee’s living room; it comes at a critical time, when the Post Company is about to go public. Ultimately, Graham sides with Bradlee and the newsroom, and the Post publishes the papers. Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court rules 6-3 in favor of the newspapers.14

Under Bradlee’s editorship, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover the Watergate scandal that leads to President Nixon's resignation in 1974. The Post receives the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service Journalism in 1973 for its investigation of Watergate.15

A labor dispute between the Post and the Newspaper Guild erupts in a violent strike. During the strike, a coordinated attack on the Post presses damages 72 of the machines in 20 minutes. When the strike ends, the Post gains complete control of the publishing of its newspaper.16

Later that year, Bradlee writes “Conversations with Kennedy.”17

Under Bradlee’s watch, reporter Janet Cooke writes a story about an eight-year-old heroin addict titled “Jimmy’s World.” After it wins a Pulitzer Prize, the story is revealed to be a fabrication. The fiasco is the biggest blow to the Post’s credibility under Bradlee’s leadership, and the Post is forced to return the Pulitzer.18

After 23 years as executive editor, Bradlee retires from the newsroom but continues to hold the title of vice president at large of the Post.19

Bradlee’s memoir, “A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures” is published.20

Bradlee serves on the Board of Trustees for St. Mary’s College of Maryland for eight years.21  He also starts an annual event for the school’s Center for the Study of Democracy, the Benjamin Bradlee Distinguished lecture in Journalism. The series hosts journalists whose work has focused on democracy.22

PBS broadcasts a one-hour interview special with Bradlee and Jim Lehrer. Lehrer asks Bradlee about Watergate, journalism ethics and the future of the industry.23

Addtional Information and References


  • Under Bradlee’s leadership, the Post received 18 Pulitzer Prizes24


  • “That Special Grace.” Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1964.
  • “Conversations with Kennedy.” New York: Norton, 1975.
  • “A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures.” New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.