Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Good Life - Book Review

A Good Life
by Ben Bradlee
Simon & Schuster 1995

For some reason I have a fascination with the Washington Post newspaper. So much so that I have read everything I can lay my hands on about Watergate (including All the Presidents Men - book and movie).

Last year I read a new book about Woodward & Bernstein, basically updating their story since Watergate. I have just recently finished Katherine Graham's biography and now I have finally finished reading Ben Bradlees biography as well.

Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1921. He graduated from Harvard University in 1942 and served in the Pacific with the Office of Naval Intelligence during World War II.

Returning from the war in 1946, he became a reporter with the New Hampshire Sunday News and then joined The Washington Post two years later.

In 1951, he became a press attaché at the U.S. embassy in Paris and two years later joined Newsweek magazine’s Paris bureau, from which he covered the Anglo-French invasion of Suez and the Algerian rebellion.

In 1957, Bradlee came to Washington, D.C., and soon became Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief. In 1965, he rejoined the Washington Post as its managing editor and three years later became its executive editor, a position he would hold until retirement in 1991.

On his watch, in 1971, the Post challenged the federal government for the right to publish the Pentagon Papers, a secret government study of the U.S. role in Vietnam. A year later, Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein began their investigation of a Washington hotel burglary, which developed into the Watergate scandal and resulted in the resignation of Richard Nixon as president.

In 1995, Bradlee published his memoirs, “A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures.” In a previous book, “Conversations With Kennedy,” published in 1975, Bradlee described the John F. Kennedy he got to know behind the scenes as a neighbor and confidant, starting in 1958 and running through Kennedy’s presidency until his death.

Since retirement Bradlee also has taught journalism courses at Georgetown University and continues in the position of vice president-at-large at the Post.

OK so those are the basics about Ben Bradlee.

If you want to know the details, you have to read the book.

I really enjoyed this book. Ben writes in a casual manner and the print is easy to read. It was not cramped like Mrs Graham's book was. Part of the details include Ben's 3 marriages and the occasional mention of his 4 kids. He also writes about his friendships with JFK and RFK and the anatagonistic relationship he and the Post had with Richard Nixon.

Ben explains how Watergate story got started. The Post was told that 5 men had been arrested for breaking into the Democratic headquarters at the watergate hotel.

Post journalists scoured for details. Little things like overhearing James McCord jr say he was in the CIA, and how an address book had the name of Howard Hunt and a notation of the White house.

Woodward called the White House switchboard and asked for Mr Hunt. When the phone ran unanswered, the operator redirected the call to Mr Colsons office as that was where Hunt might be. Colsons secretary told Woodward to catch Hunt at a PR company which they did. Hunt was aksed why his name was in the addressbook of 2 burglars arrested at the democratic headquarters. Hunts reply was "Good God"

James McCord's picture was recognised as someone who worked for the Presidents committee to re-elect the president (CRP). In less than 48 hours the Post had traced a third rate burglary deep into the White House. The next question was WHY??

And that is how it all started - by good investigative journalism.

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