Ben Bradlee, Washington Post ‘Watergate’ Editor, Dead at 93

Longtime journalist was executive editor for 26 years, gaining national fame for his role in breaking the Watergate story

Last Updated: October 21, 2014 @ 9:41 PM

Ben Bradlee, the former executive editor of The Washington Post who held that post during the paper’s key role in the Watergate scandal, died Tuesday of natural causes. He was 93 years old.

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Bradlee had been in hospice care since late September after the continued deterioration of his health and dementia. He has suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for several years.

He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in a ceremony at the White House on Nov. 20, 2013. In 2006, he received a Doctor of Human Letters from Georgetown University from Georgetown University, where he occasionally taught journalism courses.

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From 1965 to 1991, Bradlee served as The Washington Post’s executive editor, and carried the title of vice president at large of the Post until his death. He gained national fame during the Nixon administration for challenging the federal government over the right to publish the Pentagon Papers.

Carl Bernstein, Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward

Getty Images

A year later, he backed two of his reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, as they broke the Watergate story that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation from the presidency.

Bradlee was portrayed by Jason Robards in the 1976 film “All the President’s Men,” based on his paper’s work in that landmark story. Robards won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal.

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Born in Boston in 1921, Bradlee attended Harvard College and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. After his time at Harvard, Bradlee joined the Navy, where he worked as a communications officer during World War II. After the war, he began his career as a journalist at a small newspaper he helped found.

Bradlee worked briefly for the government in the early 1950s, but he quickly returned to journalism by taking a job at Newsweek in 1953. He rose to become chief of the magazine’s Washington, D.C. bureau, and when it was purchased by The Washington Post’s parent company, Bradlee began his climb up the ranks there.

President Obama issued a statement Tuesday on the death of the renowned newsman.

“For Benjamin Bradlee, journalism was more than a profession – it was a public good vital to our democracy.  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 – stories that helped us understand our world and one another a little bit better,” the President said. “The standard he set – a standard for honest, objective, meticulous reporting – encouraged so many others to enter the profession.  And that standard is why, last year, I was proud to honor Ben with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”

“Today, we offer our thoughts and prayers to Ben’s family, and all who were fortunate to share in what truly was a good life.”