By Geoff Livingston, Capitol Communicator Media Strategist
Many newspapers have noted the passing of Ben Bradlee, including his long-time employer and our local newspaper The Washington Post. Bradlee was a loyal community member (see Cary Hatch‘s Capitol Communicator column on Bradlee) who helped many local communicators in their daily quests to strengthen their brands’ and clients’ outreach efforts.
“We, in the advertising industry, have lost another giant in the communications world with the passing of Ben Bradlee, who admired our industry and the people in it,” said LMO Advertising Co-Founder Ron Owens, pictured above with Bradlee. “I met with and had many chats with Ben. He was always very congenial, likable and down-to-earth. Pardon the cliché…like Earle Palmer Brown, he, too, will be sorely missed.”
But Bradlee’s impact is more than the passing of an incredible man. Bradlee changed the newspaper business, and in doing so he lifted The Washington Post from a major metropolitan paper into an elite publication that competed with The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The LA Times and in later times USA Today.
I spoke with my father, Tom Livingston, who was managing editor of the Philadelphia Daily News during the final decade of Bradlee’s tenure (1965-1991) at The Washington Post. My father was quick to note how Bradlee did much more than preside over The Washington Post’s investigative reporting during the epic Watergate scandal. He built the paper’s reputation as a respected publication.
Bradlee took a newspaper that had only a handful of Pultizer prizes before his time, and turned it into a journalistic powerhouse that won Pultizers every year. He groomed a pool of nationally respected columnists that included Art Buchwald, George Will, Meg Greenfield, Tom Boswell, Richard Cohen, Sally Quinn (Bradlee’s wife) and many, many others.
Finally, as many have noted, he helped architect the defiance of the Nixon Administration’s attempts to bury the Pentagon Papers, a series of documents that revealed systematic lying about the expansion of the Vietnam War. Together with The New York Times and 16 other newspapers, Bradlee protected source Daniel Ellsberg. They eventually won a landmark Supreme Court decision that allowed them to publish the documents.
Many of today’s pseudo-journalists like Wikileaks’ Julian Assange and Eric Snowden wrap themselves in the cloak of the Pentagon Papers, but they will never achieve what Bradlee did. He and like-minded journalists protected a country from a government that lied to its citizenship in order to engage in a war that killed three-million people and almost 60,000 U.S. troops, including those still classified as Missing In Action (MIA).
Ben Bradlee was a hero and an architect of brilliance. He developed generations of remarkable writers and a newspaper tradition that has extended across multiple centuries. Let’s not forget his incredible leadership, strengthening women, men and country alike.
Geoff Livingston is Capitol Communicator’s Media Strategist. He also is an author, photographer and founder of Tenacity5.