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As Long as We Remember...

October 24, 2014

Making of Ben Bradlee

Roy Meachum

Publisher Katherine Graham had a large part. She lured him back to The Washington Post three times, if my reckoning is correct. I was employed a couple of times at 1515 M Street, which was the Post’s old address. Then we were fewer. Thanks to Watergate-generated income, it moved.


Ben Bradlee and I knew each other, but I never reported to him.


Guaranteeing a safe spot after the Post, Ms. Graham managed to offer: the United Nations’ delegate to former executive editor Russ Wiggins, a London-based correspondent to the managing editor Al Friendly, an Eastern Shore retirement for the ex-publisher.


John S. Hayes was to swap a Swiss ambassadorship for chairman of the executive committee that ran everything for Phil Graham, while he still was in the hospital.


The real story of The Washington Post – before Jeff Bezos took up the managing reins – spins around Mr. Graham; I really mean “spin.” I heard about the “red-head” who purported to be Australian. She was in the West, reporting for Newsweek. Then his wife captured him and he was returned. He blew his brains out in some Virginia suburb.


A mighty news organization should not suffer from its owner; there is William Randolph Hearst publically known to be slightly skewered with something like ego. Longer lived was Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane,” I saw it once it was on television. Phil Graham had little ego to be satisfied.


At the apogee of powers, Ben Bradlee bumped into me in the men’s room in the old Fairfax Hotel. I congratulated him on having actor Jason Robards playing him in the upcoming film, “All the President’s Men.” To which, Ben cursed; the words would not have gotten by the movie censors. He abruptly left the room where we had been standing at the urinals and returned to his table.


There were two men, whom I didn’t know. Sally (Ben’s wife) looked alarmed and stood up to deny access; she always intervened. I said one thing: Mr. Robards can be an actor that I’ve criticized (in pursuit of my chosen profession, the critic for assorted plays and movies.) “But you couldn’t be represented by a finer actor,” I told Mr. Bradlee.


I had always been suspicious of the way Managing Editor Al Friendly had been replaced by the drunken guy in front of me. Furthermore, since Ben Bradlee’s death rumors have spread about the times he had too much to drink. Many times.


When I got the word on Al Friendly’s Pulitzer Prize for “covering the Middle East in 1967,” I sat up, regretting I have no one to talk to, feeling that day I had won the lottery. I smiled.


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