The one event that will be forever linked to Ben Bradlee, the former executive editor of the Washington Post who died yesterday at age 93, is the reporting of the Watergate story that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. It was an historic event that proved the inestimable value of the First Amendment and symbolized the trust that the American people held in print journalism.
Sadly, that trust has eroded in the last four decades. Blame has been placed at the proliferation of websites dedicated to catering to an audience instead of the truth and the acquisition of news sources by media conglomerates enthralled by the bottom line.
Bradlee put the truth above all else. First, as managing editor of the Washington Post in 1965, then as executive editor from 1968 until his retirement in 1991, Bradlee always drove his reporters to get the story straight. He could be abrasive, and his language was often colorful, but he never wavered in getting the most out of his news staff.
Bradlee spent his career in pursuit of the truth, and his words serve as a guide for communicators operating in the modern media landscape. Here is a sample:
- The real spiel I have for you is to have a good time while you are in your jobs. Have a good time.
- Pick your fights. Don't duck 'em, but don't fight second-rate opponents.
- You never monkey with the truth.
- The truth is never as dangerous as a lie in the long run.
- Our best today, our better tomorrow.
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