Ben Bradlee
Ben Bradlee
A Good Life:  Newspapering and Other Adventures
ISBN: 0684808943
A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures
Mr. Bradlee discussed his recent book, A Good Life: Newspapering, published by Simon and Schuster.
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A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures
Program Air Date: October 29, 1995

BRIAN LAMB, HOST:Ben Bradlee, one of the last things you tell us in your book is that you gave an anonymous gift to Harvard and nothing's happened.
BEN BRADLEE, AUTHOR, "A GOOD LIFE": Well, I didn't want to have any publicity about it while I was still editor of The Post. I thought that would be inappropriate. And so I -- yeah, I tried to thank the two influences in my life; one was Kennedy and one was Phil Graham and The Washington Post. So I thought giving something to the Kennedy school, endowing a chair, would be appropriate, and I did and they've been looking ever since.
LAMB: Why has it taken so long?
BRADLEE: I don't know.
LAMB: When you...
BRADLEE: They'll find somebody.
LAMB: When you give an endowment to a school like the Kennedy School at Harvard, how does it work?
BRADLEE: Well, you have -- first thing, you have absolutely no say about who it is. And I think if you suggest someone, that person is dead. But, you know, they're going to announce someone one of these days.
LAMB: What will that someone do?
BRADLEE: They're going to teach and study the relationship between the press and public policy: what it is, what it should be, how it could be improved. And press and politics are the two things that have monopolized my attention for a long time.
LAMB: If you were going to give the opening lecture, what's the first thing you'd tell students about that relationship today?
BRADLEE: Well, tell the truth, and most politicians don't. And a lot of newspapers don't because they don't know the truth. That's really the jam we find ourselves in. We're trying -- the best newspapers -- we're trying to find the truth and we have a limited amount of time and limited sources. I mean, if the president of the United States looks you in the eye and says he can't tell you the truth about Watergate because it involves national security, you've got to run it. But it's a lie.
LAMB: What are the four, five jobs you've had in your life?
BRADLEE: Well, they've all been in the newspaper business except one, and that was -- I was on a little, tiny paper in Beverly, Mass, as a 15-year-old kid. My old man had to drive me to work. I helped start a newspaper in New Hampshire, small weekly paper. I was a reporter for The Washington Post for two sort of odd years. I was the press attache in the American Embassy in Paris -- accepted disastrous diplomat. And then I've been a reporter -- a foreign correspondent for Newsweek and for The Washington Post since 1965.
LAMB: What's your hometown?
BRADLEE: Washington. Boston I was born in.
LAMB: How long did you live there?
BRADLEE: Well, I lived 20 years -- I couldn't wait to get out. It's a lovely city now, but I couldn't wait to get out and get going, see some interesting people and do some interesting things.
LAMB: You learned early that your brother, Freddie, was an alcoholic -- or is an alcoholic and that your father drank a lot. What impact did that have on your life?
BRADLEE: Well, it made me much more appreciative of how hard it is for some people to get on top of that problem, and it taught me enormous admiration for them. My God, my brother is -- I admire him enormously. He's worked so hard and...
LAMB: Where's he today?
BRADLEE: He's in New York City.
LAMB: Your sister?
BRADLEE: My sister died a couple years ago but it taught me understanding, tolerance. That's what it did.
LAMB: What was your dad like?
BRADLEE: My dad was a wonderful man. He was an all-American football player turned sort of boy wonder banker, and then he went broke in the Depression. And he...
LAMB: This is your dad with your sister...
BRADLEE: With my sister the day she was married. And then he went broke and he became the manager of the cleaning force and the janitor force at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, three grand a year. Before that -- and this was a guy who had made pretty good dough. And then he sold -- one of his friends had invested in a commercial deodorant called SaniVan. It was a crystal that turned purple when you put water in it. And he scrubbed out an entire railroad car, the Boston-Maine Railroad, to try to sell it. He worked hard. And he didn't talk very much, but he had a fantastic sense of humor and a great gift for words. He didn't say much, but when he said it, it was worth listening.
LAMB: Where did you go to school?
BRADLEE: I went to Harvard College. I went to prep school before that and I had a kind of a bent silver spoon that gave me a wonderful education.
LAMB: Where did you get the middle name Crownshield?
BRADLEE: Crowninshield.
LAMB: Crowninshield. Excuse me.
BRADLEE: That's a -- excuse me, it's a very -- it was a great name. They were a great shipping family in Salem, Massachusetts. The man I was named for was both a congressman and secretary of the Navy. Generally alleged to have been a lousy secretary of the Navy -- didn't do anything. It was a good, strong, strong family and then it got kind of watered out.
LAMB: You spent time in the Navy.
BRADLEE: I spent a long time in the Navy and I've just now been able to articulate how much I loved it.
LAMB: How long were you in the Navy?
BRADLEE: I was in destroyers in the Pacific Ocean for three and a half years, from '42 to '45. And it turned out I was good at it. I loved it. At 21 years old I became qualified for officer of the deck, which means that you run a destroyer for four hours. Three hundred and seventy-five men and this ship 360 feet long, it goes 40 miles an hour and a 21-year-old Greek major was giving the orders. It was heady and it was a great break for me.
LAMB: You were married.
BRADLEE: I was already married. I was married when I was 20.
LAMB: Jean...
BRADLEE: I had to have my dad's permission.
LAMB: Without your dad's permission?
BRADLEE: No, I had to have it...
BRADLEE: get a license.
LAMB: Jean Saltonstall.
BRADLEE: Jean Saltonstall.
LAMB: That's a famous name. Who was Jean Saltonstall?
BRADLEE: Well, she was a cousin of Leverett Saltonstall, who's the well-known politician -- senator from Massachusetts. We were both awful young.
LAMB: How long were you married to her?
BRADLEE: Thirteen years.
LAMB: Did you have any children?
BRADLEE: One child who's -- a son who's now an assistant managing editor at the Boston Globe.
LAMB: Name's the same?
BRADLEE: Ben -- yeah. He wishes I hadn't named him Ben. He once said "I wish you'd called me Harvey."
LAMB: Why?
BRADLEE: Well, I think he felt that having the same name was unnecessary.
LAMB: You know, anybody ...
BRADLEE: Albatross.
LAMB: Anybody that's watched you over the years remembered -- I don't know how many years ago; you could probably tell us -- that you had a -- I remember seeing a debate with you with Bernie McQuaid.
BRADLEE: Bernie McQuaid and William Loeb. They...
LAMB: Didn't you have a debate with them a long time ago?
BRADLEE: It was on somebody's show I did. I did. Loeb fired me. We went out of business and sold our paper to Loeb and I needed to get fired because I needed severance pay, which is 400 and -- you know, 400 bucks and change. So I was working as a stringer for Time magazine and Newsweek at that time and he didn't like the exit interview and he bagged me.
LAMB: Now is Bernie McQuaid the gentleman here...
BRADLEE: On the right -- where your finger is.
LAMB: Right there.
BRADLEE: And he died.
LAMB: That's...
BRADLEE: And the guy on the right is Blair Clock, who's been a childhood friend of mine since the '30s, and he was the publisher -- they were co-publishers and then they had a fight.
LAMB: What relationship is Bernie McQuaid to Joe McQuaid, who now runs the Manchester Union Leader?
BRADLEE: Father. I used to carry little Joe McQuaid around on my shoulders, I think.
LAMB: When you set out to write this book, what was the objective?
BRADLEE: Well, I had thought that it would be interesting to put it all down and get judged by it. I think there's something in us that wants to be judged. I had to wrestle with writing about yourself. In Boston, you don't talk about yourself. You're not supposed to talk about yourself. You're not supposed to talk about your family, not supposed to talk about money, not supposed to talk about women. But -- and I wrestled with that for a while, especially the part about yourself -- examine your motives and relationships and what they meant to you.
LAMB: When did you start it?
BRADLEE: Oh, God, I'm embarrassed. Probably three years ago. I started it...
LAMB: Why are you embarrassed?
BRADLEE: Well, I mean it took so long. I hadn't -- you know, I'd made a pretty good living as a writer, but when I was just getting to be confident as a writer, they made me an editor and I didn't write much. I wrote leads -- 125 words, something like that -- 100 words. Howard Simmons, who was the managing editor at The Post, used to say I was a great sprinter; that I could go like the dickens for 200 words, but after that I got lost. And he probably was right.
LAMB: You thank a bunch of people in the beginning. Barbara Fineman.
BRADLEE: Oh, Barbara Fineman was my researcher and I lost her -- I should have -- she writes books herself and she's now helping Hillary Clinton. I'm not sure I'm supposed to say that, but I just did.
LAMB: And -- is it Katherine Wanning (pronounced WAHNing) or Wanning (pronounced WANing).
BRADLEE: Katherine Wanning, who was a researcher and terrific. I worked for Newsweek for a while -- at Newsweek, when you were writing and you ran into something you didn't know, you could always put parenthesis, CPC, "Checkers, please check." You know, you couldn't remember somebody's age or how to spell his name or whether he had a middle initial or never mind what year it -- you were talking about. And so if you have some help that -- people that can do that and then much more, actually, serious stuff, you can speed up the process. And you know, otherwise, you'd have to get up, go to the library, interrupt the flow of your thought.
LAMB: Tom Wilkinson.
BRADLEE: Oh, Tom Wilkinson is an AME at The Washington Post and...
LAMB: Assistant managing editor?
BRADLEE: Assistant managing editor. And he's been a friend for years, but he helped me -- we sat down and read The Washington Post in microfilm for five or six years -- the first five or six years that I was there. And we just had -- it helped jog my memory. And he would ask me, you know, "Who the hell is that?" and, "What did you think of him?" and, "Why did you play that story where you did?" And it was wonderfully helpful in getting me into the swing of it.
LAMB: How did you decide what to put in the book?
BRADLEE: If it was a marking experience in my life, it got in. There are some things that have been -- were just so joyous in my life, such fun I had that, whether they marked me or not, I just put them in. I'm an upbeat soul and I have had a good time en route to a good life, and so I put a lot of those good times in, too. Some of the bad ones, but ...
LAMB: How did you get your job at The Post?
BRADLEE: I got my job at The Post -- I had cashed my savings -- I had 800 bucks and I bought first, a railroad ticket to Washington with a stop in Baltimore, and then I had some other interviews scheduled, one in Chicago, one in Utah and one in Santa Barbara. When I got to the railroad station -- I had a letter to an editor of the Baltimore Sun, and when I got there it was raining as it has never rained before. And I looked out the train and I said -- I didn't have an umbrella -- "I'm going to drown if I get out now." So I said I'll continue on down to Washington and pick up Baltimore on the way back.

And I got to Washington and they offered me a job. They'd heard about this paper in New Hampshire that we started. Someone had quit the day before and so I got it.
LAMB: Doing what?
BRADLEE: The lowest of the low. Well, I ended up in the courts, municipal court, which is a great place to learn the city. And then I did general assignment, which is the best job that there is on a newspaper. And I got in trouble, I thought, because The Washington Post was losing a million bucks a year in those days and there was a very small staff; there was no expansion. I wanted to, you know, cover the Hill, cover the White House, and they had people there that were entrenched, so I began looking for another job.
LAMB: You tell a story about a swimming pool episode.
BRADLEE: Well, that was one of the things I did on general assignment. It must have been 1949, I think -- it could have been 1950, too -- 1950, also. And there were race riots at East Potomac Park, which was is a public park here, run by the Interior Department. Six pools in Washington -- six public pools. Three were sort of de facto black, three were white. And this was right after the '48 election and some people who'd been members of the Progressive Party thought it would be a fun summer project to see if they could integrate some of the white pools, so they brought some black kids into the white pool, and all hell broke loose.

There were pitched battles, there really were. There were 300 or 400 whites on one side of the park, 300 or 400 blacks, and each had weapons. They had sticks with nails in them. The park police were mounted and were charging into these crowds or something. It was an extraordinary -- I think we were there 36 hours and running.

And I was with another reporter and we came back to The Post at 6:00 or 7:00 the second night and, you know, we were arguing how they were going to play the thing. Surely it was on page one. Probably not the lead, but maybe the off-lead. We couldn't find it on page one because it wasn't there. We couldn't find it in the A section. We looked in the metro section and we couldn't find it on that page one. And then we finally kept thumbing through, growing madder and madder and madder. And it was inside somewhere. And it was a story not about the riot, but about the question of whether pools should be integrated or not. You know, way down in the story there was a mention of a disturbance. They called it an incident -- a disturbance and an incident.

So I was young and sore and I started mouthing off about this great liberal paper. And all of a sudden I felt a little knock on my shoulder and I turned around and there was Phil Graham, the owner. This was 8:00, 9:00, and he was in a tuxedo and he said, "Come on upstairs with me, buster."
LAMB: Did you know him then?
BRADLEE: I knew him as the owner, and it was a much smaller paper then and, you know, he hung around and we saw him. I knew him, but I didn't know him well at all. So I went up to his office and he ushered me in and there were three men in tuxedoes, also. One of them was the president -- Truman's top assistant, Clark Clifford. The other was the secretary of the Interior, Krug, and his deputy, Oscar Chapman. And he said, "Tell them what you just told me." And so, you know, I didn't need a second invitation and I let it go and all sorts of -- I didn't embellish it, but I didn't hold anything back, and then I was dismissed. And he said, "That's all," and out he went.

And I didn't know what happened. I felt better, but it turned out that, we learned much later, that he had made a deal with the government, forced them to make a deal in which he said, "Close that pool" -- the one that was at issue -- "immediately and agree now to open all six pools on a totally integrated basis next year or Bradlee's story runs on page one tomorrow." Tough. Real hardball. And not something that would be tolerated now.

And it's kind of interesting. I've thought a lot about it since I wrote that because you have to -- the pools did open next year, totally integrated, no incidents, no race riots. There were no race riots in Washington for years after that. And you have to ask yourself whether such a deal, which I would instinctively call a deal with the devil -- whether it, in fact, was that or whether it, in fact, saved lives. I don't know the answer.
LAMB: Jump way beyond that, beyond Watergate through your 23 days in the woods.
BRADLEE: When I wrote the Kennedy book?
LAMB: Yes. You tell this story about -- first of all, why did you spend 23 days alone out in West Virginia?
BRADLEE: Well, because I had a cabin there and I wanted to exorcise Watergate. I'd been living with that for a long time and I wanted to do something entirely different.
LAMB: What year was this?
BRADLEE: This was 1974. It was two days after President Nixon resigned. I had these notes of some 130, 140 conversations I'd had with President Kennedy, and I thought it would make a book. And so I went up into the woods to translate maybe 30,000 or 40,000 words of notes into a book. And I decided to go up there, to go up there alone. The telephone didn't work. All I had was the radio to listen to Orioles' game at night after I got up at six, worked until my fingers hurt, which is generally about noon or one, and then I'd go out in the woods and burn brush and chop, which is my avocation.
LAMB: Were you married then?
BRADLEE: I was not married. I was involved, but I still was alone.
LAMB: Now you have been married three times. At what point in this process did you marry the second woman?
BRADLEE: I got married to Tony Bradlee in 195 -- this is really unfair -- 56.
LAMB: How many children?
BRADLEE: We had two kids.
LAMB: And you married your third...
BRADLEE: And I married Sally Quinn in -- it was '78.
LAMB: Back to the woods. You kept referring to the fact you could just clear your head entirely over those 23 days.
BRADLEE: Well, in the woods, I can empty my head. I don't think about anything -- except, you know, whatever my project is; to clear this area, take down that tree, whatever.
LAMB: What about the guy that showed up?
BRADLEE: You've really read it, haven't you?
LAMB: Well, that's an interesting -- I mean, what was that like? Tell the story.
BRADLEE: Well, it was August and I was typing on the -- this was a log cabin. It's a really rickety place; still, it's still very much standing. And I was writing on the porch, which overlooked a kind of a gorge that went down into the Cacapon River. And I was typing away. And all of sudden I saw someone come up who was dressed in a black felt hat, all in black. He looked -- it might have been an Amish hunter. And he had a gun -- a rifle, or shotgun; I've forgotten which -- crooked in his arm. And I couldn't believe it. It's August, there's no hunting season open which doesn't bother those guys up there much, but I just noted that he had a gun and this was a week or so after Nixon had left.

And so I said, "Howdy," nervously, and he said "Howdy" and he came up the hill slowly, slowly, slowly and he got, you know, 10 or 15 feet away from where I was sitting and then he said, "Are you Ben Bradlee?" And my heart sank. I really didn't know who this guy was, so I said, "Yes." And I must have said something nervously or something and he said, "Well, I've got to tell you, I hated everything you did about Nixon and Watergate. I just think you were wrong as could be" or "wrong as hell" or whatever he said. But he put his cards right down on the table -- and I can't tell you how remote this place is. It's four miles in off of the main road, and if something had happened to me, the vultures would have had me and ...
LAMB: Did you think it was all over?
BRADLEE: Well, I didn't know. It occurred to me, what was he doing with a gun? I mean, I finally asked him what he was hunting and he said, "Looking for some squirrels." But, you know, I was very skeptical those days about what people told me.

Anyway, it did scare me and I got up and tried to move him on and said, "Well, I've got to get back to work. I'm going this way." And he walked off.
LAMB: Do you ever run into anybody anymore that doesn't know who Ben Bradlee is?
BRADLEE: Oh, sure. I mean, it's only since this book that I have any real visual recognition. You know, I think they know the name, a lot of them, but that face was not all that common.
LAMB: Where was this picture taken?
BRADLEE: It was taken the day I left the city room of The Washington Post and they had a really wonderful sort of two-hour goodbye in the middle of the day. And they were telling stories. That was -- made me laugh, that one.
LAMB: What do you think of the experience of talking this book out like this?
BRADLEE: Well, I am just stunned at the interest. I am stunned by the hunger that radio and television has for people. I mean, you've got to have new, raw material. And when that need collides with the desire of authors and publishers to sell books, it's awesome. I didn't know anything about talk radio, really, until the last 10 days. And there is some very intelligent and interesting -- I mean, I've been on FM rock 'n' roll stations, and the rule, I was told, that if it has 250 watts, go on it. And then I've been with people who really show an interest and understanding.
LAMB: What are they most interested in?
BRADLEE: Well, I mean, after they get through Watergate and maybe they'll notch it up once to the Pentagon papers, they go pretty fast to Janet Cooke and girlfriends.
LAMB: John F. Kennedy's girlfriends?
BRADLEE: His and mine.
LAMB: You say just about everything in here about your own personal life. Why?
BRADLEE: Well, I didn't -- it seems to some people that it's just about everything. I decided that I would include experiences that really changed me and influenced me; that if I was going to write a book about myself and about my times, that I ought to do that. And I led a rather repressed life as a kid. By the time I was really interested I was on a destroyer and, you know, would go ... I never saw women of any kind, and so I included some and very briefly. I don't know why people -- I mean, I never spent any time, there's no prurient detail there of any kind.
LAMB: When you were in the boss' chair at The Post, you would get some notes once in a while from an anonymous woman at The Post.
BRADLEE: I did get that, yes.
LAMB: What kind of notes were they?
BRADLEE: They were kind of mash notes and I didn't know who sent them, until the person involved quit The Post to go be a television anchor in New York and confessed to me that she had written them and said that she was leaving because she couldn't work out her emotions about me.
LAMB: Her name?
BRADLEE: Sally Quinn.
LAMB: What did she say in those notes?
BRADLEE: Well, I can't remember them now, but it was...
LAMB: Did you save them?
BRADLEE: No, I didn't save them. In fact, I didn't save them at the time, I thought it might be somebody playing a practical joke. You know, these were the days that dirty tricks -- so I moved on and I'm awfully glad that she confessed to being the author.
LAMB: Then what happened?
BRADLEE: We got married sometime later.
LAMB: Is it a hard problem in a newsroom, male-female relationships, working on the job? I mean, did you have any rules at The Post about commingling?
BRADLEE: No. You can't make rules. You can't regulate that stuff. No. And she called me Mr. Bradlee until the day she said goodbye. And then she left for New York, so it was a difficult beginning. It's no more difficult in a newspaper than it is in what you could call real life.
LAMB: When was the first time you met Jack Kennedy?
BRADLEE: Pushing baby carriages in Georgetown on a Sunday afternoon. I think it was probably '58. And...
LAMB: Both of you pushing baby carriages?
BRADLEE: Well, I mean both families. I think I was pushing, I don't know; I can't remember whether he was. And we had young children together, and he had moved on the same block as I was. And we ended up in his backyard and in his garden and we were talking and then we actually happened to go to a party that night together and we ended up as friends.
LAMB: You say in the book that Jacqueline Kennedy never quite got over the fact that you were a newsman and a friend at the same time.
BRADLEE: I think she had trouble with that. I had trouble with it for a while. Everybody had trouble with it until it became natural. I never dissembled and I would occasionally -- I worked for Newsweek then. I occasionally wrote things that displeased him and ended up in the doghouse at least once for three months. I mean, I never saw him after -- compared to seeing him once or twice a week. And I think Jackie was uncomfortable with that. And I can understand that.
LAMB: When did she stop talking to you?
BRADLEE: About three weeks after the assassination. We spent a couple of weekends with her right after the end of November and then what we had together as a foursome didn't show up again as a threesome. And she moved to New York anyway. Tony Bradlee helped her buy the house that she bought in Georgetown and then she left. I mean, she, in effect, never was happy in Washington after that and left. And she didn't like the book I wrote about Kennedy. She just said she thought the language wasn't bright and that -- you know, Kennedy and I, having been in the Navy together at a time when vocabularies are being formed and we used four-letter words, not with any sense of what they meant, just -- and I reported that. Excuse me.
LAMB: You said that you passed her a couple of times and she wouldn't even acknowledge you after that.
BRADLEE: That happened twice. And...
LAMB: You remembered it, though.
BRADLEE: Well, I sure did. I mean, to go from as close as we were to the deep freeze is unnatural. And it hurt me. I could live with it, but I wished that -- I didn't want to re-create it and because times change and the caravan moves on, but I didn't want to be, in any sense, hostile.
LAMB: You've got a picture in here of your former wife, Tony. Which one in that picture?
BRADLEE: On the far side with the stripes.
LAMB: Who are the rest of the folks?
BRADLEE: Next was her mother, Ruth Pinchot, and then the president and Tony's sister Mary Meyer. At the Pinchot Estate -- their uncle was governor of Pennsylvania.
LAMB: When did you find out that President Kennedy had a relationship with your wife's sister?
BRADLEE: I found it out after Mary was murdered on the tow path in Georgetown. And we received a call that same night from a friend of ours, who was Mary's close friend who told us of the existence of a diary. That phone call came from Japan, and that Mary had expressed a desire that, "If anything ever happened to me, that diary be destroyed."
LAMB: When you went looking for the diary, you found James Jesus Angleton.
LAMB: Who was he?
BRADLEE: Well, James Jesus Angleton at that time was, and for many years later was, in the CIA. At that time he wasn't quite the ogre that he became painted as. He was an interesting -- intensely involved in his job. He was a great fly fisherman. He raised orchids. He was a great admirer of Elvis Presley. He was an all-around interesting man. And his wife, Cissy Angleton, we were all friends together and his wife was a particular friend of Mary Meyer. And she, too, had been told of the existence of this diary, and that if anything happened, it should be destroyed. Mary wanted it destroyed.

So Angleton -- we soon defined that's why he was there, but how he got in we didn't know because it was locked. And we found it. We didn't find it in Mary's house. We found it later in a studio, and we found Jim Angleton trying to pick a lock to get his way in. Anyway, we were all more naive in that way. When we found the diary, Mary Meyer was an artist and artists have things called paint books, which is predominantly the pages are quite a high-quality paper, thicker. And most of the pages had swatches of paint on it and then slight descriptions of how that color was achieved. And she was a colorist. That was the school of painting she belonged to and color was particularly important.

And then a couple of pages, maybe a dozen in all, there were some handwritten descriptions of what was obviously an affair -- no names -- and what was obviously an affair with the president. And we...
LAMB: Did you ever see that diary, by the way?
LAMB: You personally saw it.
BRADLEE: Yes, I did.
LAMB: Where is it now?
BRADLEE: It's burned. But it took for a long time to get burned because Tony thought that she had no skills at burning it -- she didn't know how to destroy a document. And it was -- I'm sure she didn't consider giving it to me to destroy, so she gave it to her friend, who was a member of an organization that presumably was very good at destroying things and she gave it to Angleton to destroy, and he said he would.

And then two or three years later -- two years later, I think, when the president's affair with Mary Meyer became public. She wanted to know. She saw Angleton and said, "You didn't destroy that document, did you?" And Angleton said no, that he hadn't. And so no one knows what Angleton did with that thing, but he gave it back to Tony and she destroyed it in a fire.
LAMB: James Angleton's dead, Mary Meyer's dead, John F. Kennedy's dead. And what were the -- Mary Meyer -- did they ever find the person that killed her?
BRADLEE: No. There was a trial and the jury acquitted him. She was murdered on the tow path. A man was found about 50 feet away crouching in the Potomac River, and he said that he was fishing and had fallen in. And nobody believed him, but he was acquitted. He had been identified only by one person and that person was looking across the canal into the afternoon sun. And the lawyer was able to create a reasonable doubt.
LAMB: You write this deep in your book about this whole event in your life. "We were left to work out how the news had changed our opinions of President Kennedy and Mary Meyer," meaning the affair. "The answer for me was not all that much. They were attractive, intelligent and interesting people before their paths crossed in this explosive way and they remain that way in my mind." Did the president ever lie to you?
BRADLEE: I never discussed women with him. I mean, imagine having dinner with your wife and the president and his wife and I know what you're go -- I don't know all the things you're going to talk about, but I know one thing you're not going to talk about, and that is extracurricular fooling around by either one of you. It's not going to happen. So I did not know. People have trouble believing that, but it's the truth.
LAMB: Is there any difference in your mind what John Kennedy did when it came to these extracurricular affairs and what President Nixon did lying to the country over Watergate?
BRADLEE: Well, except I never heard Kennedy lie about it. I mean, nobody ever asked him. I mean, the rules sure changed afterwards, but, you know -- you were around then. The number-one item on the journalist's agenda was not to pin some sexual escapade on the president. There were really other things that had higher priorities.
LAMB: What changed this whole approach by the media?
BRADLEE: Well, I think -- I don't know the answer to that, but I think two things. One is, I think, the counterculture that was born in this country in the '60s changed Americans' attitudes about sex, among other things. They changed American attitudes on all institutions. And then I think that Watergate -- you know, when government people started to lie. Put those two things together and people sort of said, "By God, presidents aren't going to lie to us anymore, and especially about sex."
LAMB: The Pentagon Papers -- what was that?
BRADLEE: Well, that was the great -- the Pentagon Papers were a 7,000-page study commissioned by Robert McNamara to explore how come we got into Vietnam. And it was considered, even though it stopped at 1968 or '69, in 1971 The New York Times got a copy of them, 7,000 pages, and they worked for months on it. And the word on the local tom-tom, grapevine was The New York Times had a big, big story and they were going to bust in on The Washington Post. And we were going to quiver there for days. And then pretty much what happened, it was a big, big story because Vietnam was such a powerful story at that time. Three, four stories a day on page one about Vietnam for years.
LAMB: Why did you send some reporters to Chief Justice Burger's door? And what happened?
BRADLEE: We finally published it. We finally got a copy of it and we published it three days, four days after The New York Times. We published, I think, three days' worth before we got enjoined, just the way The New York Times had been enjoined. And the case was going from Judge Caselle's court, the district court up to the appeal court -- down, up, down and this way. And we thought that somewhere along the line there was going to be some -- all happening late at night -- that there would be some appeal to the chief justice by the lawyers for the government if , when we won. So we sent two reporters out there that night just to wait to see so that we'd know who and when and what was happening. And...
LAMB: To Chief Justice Burger's house.
BRADLEE: To Chief Justice Burger's house. And after waiting a while, they went up and rang the door -- I mean, this is one of the great sights that I conjure up in my life.
LAMB: Twelve o'clock at night.
BRADLEE: Twelve o'clock at night. And the chief justice comes down in his -- what do you call them? -- night robes, his jammies with a gun. And he didn't know who the hell it was out there. And there was this very dicey conversation while these two reporters established their identity to the justice's satisfaction and ...
LAMB: Why did he open the door?
BRADLEE: I don't know. Because they were so sweet and innocent looking maybe. I don't know. Anyway, he said, "Well, go down to the end of the road and stay there." But the trouble was that they all wanted to -- the guys at the Post wanted to run that story. And we were on our way up to the Supreme Court with an appeal, and I just thought that maybe the chief justice -- I didn't want to anger the chief justice and I kept it out of the paper. And I'm not particularly proud of that, but we did it.
LAMB: That story.
BRADLEE: That story. Until Nick Von Hoffman, who was a columnist, sneaked it in two or three weeks after the Pentagon Papers was all over.
LAMB: A former Booknotes guest is a Washington Post reporter by the name of David Maraniss. He's written a book about President Clinton, and in the middle...
BRADLEE: Great reporter.
LAMB: the middle of your book, you tell a story about how David Maraniss played a role in the Janet Cooke story.
BRADLEE: Well, I think his title was deputy metro editor. He was Bob Woodward's deputy when Woodward was metro editor. And we had learned that Janet Cooke had probably fabricated this entire story about an eight-year-old heroin addict, but she hadn't admitted it yet. And we had sort of been trying to get her to admit that.
LAMB: How old was she?
BRADLEE: Her late 20s.
LAMB: What year was this?
BRADLEE: Nineteen eighty-one.
LAMB: She was a black woman.
BRADLEE: Black woman -- beautiful black woman and a terrific reporter; great writer.
LAMB: Vassar graduate.
BRADLEE: She wasn't a Vassar graduate, that was the problem. She had attended Vassar for one year, and that's how we were tipped of that when she -- you know, the worst possible thing that could happen to her happened; she won the Pulitzer Prize for this story. And the Pulitzer committee put out her biography, and in the biography, which was written from information she had supplied, it said that she was a Vassar honors graduate. And I got this call some days later saying -- from somebody in the dean's office at Vassar saying, "I think we've got a little problem." And we sure did.

But anyway, Maraniss -- some editors said, you know, "Take us to the house of this little kid," and she couldn't do it. And we had people speak foreign languages to her that she couldn't speak although she said she could. And then finally we left her alone with Maraniss, and it was then that she had said, "I was scared they'd leave me alone with you because I can handle the other guys, but I can't handle you." And she confessed that she'd made it all up. And ...
LAMB: You say you tried to find her and get her to talk about it. What happened?
LAMB: Now, I mean, real life.
BRADLEE: Oh, now. Well, there's one person at The Post who tells me that she stays in touch with Janet Cooke. And I asked her to ask Janet Cook eif she would please talk to me because I remain absolutely hypnotized by that case. It was a very, very serious blow to our credibility and the word came back that she didn't want to see me.
LAMB: Where is she?
BRADLEE: I don't know. She was then in Toledo. This was months ago. I think she was in Toledo. That's where she came from. That's where her mom and dad live.
LAMB: A lot of names are in your book in journalism and you have some opinions of them. A fellow who you say is the son of a minor count or he's a minor count, Arnold DeBordre.
BRADLEE: Well, he was the son of a count and he was the editor of The Washington Times.
LAMB: Arnold DeBordre.
BRADLEE: Yes. But he's a professional journalist and is a friend. I succeeded him as the Newsweek correspondent in Paris and I didn't approve of the Reverend Moon or his paper and Arnold and I just disagreed about that.
LAMB: What do you think of him today?
BRADLEE: He's my friend.
LAMB: What do you think of Al Neuharth? You mention him in there.
BRADLEE: Not as much as he mentioned me in his book. Well, I think Newhart is so interested in polishing his reputation that he's a little off base. He got in real trouble when he wrote a book by trying to buy copies of his book himself, or getting the foundation that he heads to buy them to manipulate The New York Times best-seller list.
LAMB: You follow this kind of thing closely. There are those who say that you said nice things about Bill Safire in your book and he threw you a "wet kiss," quote, unquote, in his review of your book in The Times.
BRADLEE: Did you read Mary McGrory's answer to that review? She said that, "Who the hell is Safire to talk about withholding documents and ..." I thought Safire, when he first came into the newspaper business, he came in fresh from being an insider, a Nixon insider, and I was not ready to accept his credentials. If Richard Cohen isn't the best columnist in Washington, he is -- Safire. I didn't know who was going to write that review. And, in fact, I'd heard that Wicker was going to write it, Tom Wicker. And then it turned out that Tom Wicker wrote the review for The Washington Post, which I couldn't find out, they wouldn't tell me, and I didn't want to poke around for fear that I'd get caught asking and create some suspicion in someone's mind.
LAMB: Who's written the worst review?
BRADLEE: Well, I...
LAMB: And what didn't you like about it?
BRADLEE: I don't know the worst review. I know the worst headline for the review.
LAMB: Which was?
BRADLEE: Is that what you're trying to get me to say?
LAMB: No, I haven't -- I don't know which one...
BRADLEE: The Wall Street Journal wrote a review by a man called John Corry and the headline was "The Great Horny Editor." And I thought that was, you know, extraneous.
LAMB: You don't like the Pulitzers very much.
BRADLEE: Well, I'm so conflicted about it because I'd rather win them than lose them, and yet I think it distorts. I think people work towards Pulitzers when they should be working on a story. I doubt that the best journalism always gets the Pulitzer Prize. I don't think it does.
LAMB: Were you disappointed when Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward came to you and said, "We think we should have won that Pulitzer not the Post?"
BRADLEE: Yes. I think that was a day that on sober, second thought they shouldn't have, and I think they do agree now. I mean, The Post -- the Public Service Prize and the Pulitzer is won by a newspaper and the citation. Although the citation talked about the extraordinary work of Bernstein and Woodward, the paper won the prize. And I told them that they were going to become folk heroes whether they won it or The Post won it and the Post should have won it. The Post -- especially the editorial writers, Herb Block, the great cartoonist, and Katharine Graham -- they are the people who really put everything into it.
LAMB: You say Howard Simons wasn't very happy with the way he was portrayed in the movie.
BRADLEE: Well, he wasn't. He thought that I got more credit than I deserved and he got less credit than he deserved. And I'm not going to get into that. I've talked to Alan Pakula about it, who was the director of that movie and who was a great friend of Howard's, an admirer. His feeling is that you had to have sort of one catalyst type editor and not two or three. So many people worked so hard on that, it's unfair to single one out and I got singled out.
LAMB: You wrote this on page 128. "I am instinctively pro-sunshine. Against closed doors, pro-let it all hang out in smoke-filled rooms. I believe that truth sets man free. I have to yield every inch of the high ground, but I am less sure today than I was when Phil Graham made the secret deal that the public is best served by knowing everything the second an incident happens." What did you mean by all that?
BRADLEE: Well, I think since I've left the newsroom, the speed that is so important to journalists -- my God, you hear it and you've got to get it in -- is less important to me now. I think that maybe ... I just wonder, that's all. I mean, I just wonder whether the incident with Phil and the race riots made me what my Greek teacher used to say, "Sober second thought." Was the public badly served by that deal? I don't know. My instinct is to say yes, but I'm not sure it's -- I could prove that now.
LAMB: Would you have been as big a success as you've been without JFK and your friendship with him?
BRADLEE: Oh, I would like to think so. I wouldn't have been without Katharine Graham, that's for sure. But with Kennedy, I don't know. That gave me a profile, it sure did, but there was a little rub to it. There were people saying that I went bail for Kennedy and I didn't tell the truth -- all I knew about Kennedy, which is not true, but that was the minor, minor, minor downside of the relationship.
LAMB: Would you advise a young reporter today to be as close to a...
BRADLEE: Well...
LAMB: ...source as you were?
BRADLEE: ...I don't know. You can't assign a guy to cover a politician and sort of understood that that person will get close. You've got to get close to know. You've got to get close to the politician and to the people around him or else you won't know him. You won't be able to report accurately. I don't see how you can say a "Get close but don't get too close." As soon as he really gives you something good, bail out. There's a great deal of self-regulatory mechanisms in that relationship. If you think for a minute that my colleagues weren't reading every word in Newsweek about Kennedy and if they had found some consistent exclusives, God, I can imagine Hugh Sidey -- who was my opposite number on Time -- going both to the president and to Salinger and people like that saying, "Why the hell are you -- what are you doing giving Bradlee all that good stuff and you don't give it to us?"

Second, self-regulatory thing is the reporter himself. I don't want to go through life and end up in history as a batman for any man. They used to call them coat catchers in Boston. You know, the guy gets his coat -- takes his coat off and there's somebody around there to catch his coat. And the third regulatory force is the editors. They know of the relationship because it has to be public knowledge. You have to tell your editors that you've developed this relationship. They loved the skinny I was getting out of the White House. They just loved it. And they dined out on it, but they went through everything with a fine-tooth comb again.
LAMB: What's it like living in Robert Todd Lincoln's former home?
BRADLEE: Well, Sally and I had a great house over in Dupont Circle. And then this miracle occurred; we had a baby and we lost the guest room and each of us lost a study. So we went looking for a bigger house. Sally said we have to have a bigger house. And she found one. I mean, it must be the biggest house in the whole world, but it's this beautiful house that was built in 1790 and Robert Todd Lincoln's wife died there in 1935. Most people would think that Lincoln's daughter-in-law died a whole lot before that.
LAMB: Biggest house in Georgetown?
BRADLEE: No, I don't think it's the biggest, but you might have to measure it. It's big -- hasn't got all that many rooms, but they're big rooms and it's got a big garden.
LAMB: When does your next book, "How to Read a Newspaper" come out?
BRADLEE: I wish you'd tell me. I've had a vacation every year, obviously, but I haven't had days off. If somebody calls me up and says, "Would you like to play golf today?" I have never done that. So I'd like to smell the flowers for a while. I'm 74 years old. But the present plan calls for me to teach a course at Georgetown in the fall of '96.
LAMB: That would be a year from now.
BRADLEE: A year from now. And then I would think that in the process of that I could be writing a book, so -- God, I just got finished this one. Give me a break.
LAMB: Here's the book. Ben Bradlee, "Newspapering and Other Adventures: A Good Life." Thank you for joining us.
BRADLEE: Is it over?
LAMB: It is over.
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