For a short time in the post-Watergate '70s, Ben Bradlee and I had something in common: we were both editors of a Washington newspaper. Of course, fledgling alternative weekly Washington Newsworks was not exactly the giant, swaggering Washington Post. We were the "Washington Outsiders" (as our promo said--I wrote it) in direct contrast to the insiders at the Post. Though there was also another daily in town (the solid, well-edited Washington Star) the Post was the measure of all journalism in Washington. They were all over the glamorous federal Washington, but their Metro section was weak. So we looked for our stories there, as well as in the youth culture that the Post saw chiefly with bemusement.
Though I never met Bradlee, he was already an icon. I'd been in Boston when the Pentagon Papers and Watergate were happening--my own stories on the 1972 Nixon campaign cited the Post's reporting before it permeated the political consciousness.
Then when I was Newsworks editor, Bradlee's boldness was an unadmitted model. My first news decision was reviving a story that had been held back because it might offend an advertiser. Bradlee wouldn't be intimidated! I worked with the writer to make sure the story was solid, and we gave the advertisers a heads-up on its publication (They shrugged--they knew newspapers reported stories when they bought the ads.)
Later I went after a national story which involved facing down some very important people, channeling Bradlee without realizing it. My proudest moment now was how Newsworks covered the assassination of Chilean activist Orlando Letelier in a car bombing by Pinochet's secret police on the streets of Washington that also killed American Ronni Karpen Moffitt. Jeff Stein did all the reporting (he's now a columnist at the Washington Post) all on his own, so except for a little text editing my role was as Newswork's Bradlee. I put the story on the cover and gave it major play inside. I worked with Jeff, with the art and production department. The result was the best and most thorough coverage in the city. Better than yours, Ben. I'll bet you noticed.
Those who knew him are marking his death with their remembrances. (For good example, David Remnick at the New Yorker.) For everybody else, there's an apparently dead-on portrayal of Bradlee by Jason Robards in the classic film of All the President's Men. For me, there was and is the example of a editor with courage and panache who stood for--and stood up for--a kind of journalism I believed in, and tried to do. Sure, he had lots of faults and some lapses. So did and do I. But as a model, he was it. May he rest in peace, but his restless spirit ever pervade American journalism.