US & Canada

Washington Post former editor Ben Bradlee dies at 93

Ben Bradlee. Photo: April 2011 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ben Bradlee has been described as "the best American newspaper editor of his time"

Ben Bradlee, the editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate scandal that toppled President Richard Nixon, has died aged 93.

The newspaper reports he died at his Washington home of natural causes.

As executive editor from 1968-1991, Bradlee was credited for transforming the Post into one the most respected newspapers in America.

In 2013, he was given the country's highest civilian honour - the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

"For Benjamin Bradlee, journalism was more than a profession - it was a public good vital to our democracy," President Barack Obama said in a statement released by the White House on Tuesday evening.

"A true newspaperman, he transformed the Washington Post into one of the country's finest newspapers, and with him at the helm, a growing army of reporters published the Pentagon Papers, exposed Watergate, and told stories that needed to be told."

"Ben Bradlee was the best American newspaper editor of his time and had the greatest impact on his newspaper of any modern editor," said Donald Graham, the former publisher of the Washington Post.

'Interested in the truth'

Bradlee played a key role in pursuing what became known as the Watergate scandal, which eventually toppled President Richard Nixon in 1974.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Barack Obama awarded Bradlee with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013
Image copyright AP
Image caption In 1971, Bradlee (right), with WP publisher Katharine Graham, decided to publish the Pentagon Papers - a secret study of the Vietnam War

The scandal began when five men were caught trying to break into the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate complex in Washington, on 17 June 1972.

The intruders were adjusting bugging equipment and photographing documents.

Bradlee encouraged two journalists - Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein - to pursue relentlessly the unfolding story.

When secret tape recordings of Nixon's complicity in covering up the scandal came to light, the president was left with no choice but to resign.

The story of the newspaper's coverage of the Watergate scandal was later portrayed in the film All The President's Men.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 live's Up All Night, Mr Woodward and Mr Bernstein described Bradlee as an editor who could get the best from his journalists.

"He was interested in the truth," Mr Woodward said. "He motivated and encouraged to dig for that truth, and even in the face of weeks and weeks, months of denials and denunciation from the Nixon White House, he really didn't buckle."

'Aggressive reporting'

Bradlee - who fought in the Navy during World War Two - became a reporter in the 1950s.

He soon became close friends with the then senator and future President John F Kennedy.

Bradlee became managing editor at the Washington Post in 1965 and was promoted to executive editor three years later.

"From the moment he took over The Post newsroom in 1965, Mr Bradlee sought to create an important newspaper that would go far beyond the traditional model of a metropolitan daily," the newspaper wrote in its obituary.

"He achieved that goal by combining compelling news stories based on aggressive reporting with engaging feature pieces of a kind previously associated with the best magazines."

In 1971, Bradlee decided to publish the so-called Pentagon Papers - a secret study of the Vietnam War broken by The New York Times.

Bradlee acted against the advice of lawyers and the entreaties of top government officials. A legal battle then began, with the Supreme Court later upholding the right of newspapers to print the leaked papers.

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