Ben Bradlee was a Democratic Party insider who commented during his paper’s coverage of the Reagan administration’s Iran-Contra affair that “This is the most fun we’ve had since Watergate.” He saw the controversy as a way to bring down another Republican president. It worked with Watergate, which brought down Richard Nixon. It didn’t work in Reagan’s case.
Bradlee despised Accuracy in Media’s (AIM) founder and then-chairman Reed Irvine because he exposed how Bradlee used The Washington Post as a weapon of political war. No amount of praise for the late “legendary” Post executive editor will erase the facts behind Bradlee’s partisan and political legacy. He was an example of what’s wrong with journalism.
It’s fine to praise Bradlee as a good father and family man. But the idea that his leadership of the Post is something to be admired is crazy.
Bradlee, a former JFK confidante, was one of the leading anti-Reagan journalists during the time that Reagan had taken on the herculean task of confronting the Soviet Evil Empire. Reagan had taken office in the wake of the disastrous Jimmy Carter presidency, which saw the rise of communism in Central America and the overthrow of the pro-Western Shah of Iran, who was replaced by the anti-American Islamic zealots bent on developing nuclear weapons, which we still face today.
At AIM, based on various surveys and studies, we estimated that Democratic partisans numbered around 80 percent of those working for our Big Media at the time. Many were at the Post.
Before Reagan, of course, Nixon was the big enemy. The anti-communist former congressman had laid the basis for his runs for national office by helping to expose Soviet spy Alger Hiss in the State Department, and a communist network inside the U.S. government. Many liberals, even to this day, think Hiss was innocent or that the evidence against him is still in dispute. One of Bradlee’s reporters on the Watergate story was Carl Bernstein, whose parents were members of the Soviet-controlled Communist Party. Bernstein would later write an article for Rolling Stone magazine about alleged CIA manipulation of the press. We at AIM knew where he was coming from and why he had it in for Nixon.
President George W. Bush also became a Post target, especially when his former press secretary Scott McClellan came out with a book, What Happened, about how the administration supposedly led the nation into an “unnecessary war” in Iraq. Never mind that The New York Times recently reported that weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq.
At the time, we called it “The Network Behind the Bush-bashing Book,” and found a laundry list of interesting characters. McClellan’s publisher, Peter Osnos, had been a foreign correspondent for The Washington Post and the newspaper’s foreign and national editor. He had begun his career as an assistant to I.F. Stone, the pro-communist “journalist” named as a Soviet agent of influence, who was the uncle of Weather Underground communist terrorist Kathy Boudin. Every book that Osnos published included a dedication to Benjamin Bradlee, I.F. Stone and Robert Bernstein, the former head of Random House.
The McClellan book, published in June 2008, didn’t do much damage to Bush, who was finishing out his second term. But it seemed mainly designed to do some collateral damage to Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a supporter of the Iraq War who ran against Barack Obama for the presidency later that year.
In March, 2008, as he was preparing the publication of McClellan’s book, Osnos found time to pay tribute to I.F. Stone on the anniversary of Stone’s birthday. Others who paid tribute were Robert Kaiser, former managing editor of The Washington Post, and Myra MacPherson, author of a book about Stone and a former reporter for The Washington Post. Stone seemed to have quite a following at the paper.
There’s more. In 1980, in one of my first assignments for Reed Irvine at Accuracy in Media, I reported that Osnos had guest-lectured at the Marxist Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington, D.C. during a Karen DeYoung class on “foreign reporting.” DeYoung was then a foreign reporter for the Post, and rose through the ranks of the paper.
The fact that Bradlee, executive editor from 1968 to 1991, would allow a reporter to “teach” a class at a Marxist institute said a lot about the left-wing atmosphere at the paper.
The IPS class was held during a time when the Soviet Union and its client state, communist Cuba, were destabilizing Central America and installing communist governments in the region. Reagan had stopped the Soviet takeover at a critical juncture, when he ordered the military liberation of communist-controlled Grenada. However, Reagan was also supporting the democratic government of El Salvador, which faced a communist terrorist movement, and freedom fighters in Nicaragua opposing the communist Sandinista regime.
When Reagan’s National Security Council staffer Oliver North arranged for unofficial assistance to the Nicaraguan resistance in response to a liberal Congress cutting off their aid, it became the Iran-Contra affair, or “scandal,” in the eyes of the liberal media. This is when Bradlee was having his “fun,” as various Watergate reporting techniques were used to finger Reagan (“What did he know, and when did he know it?”), and bring him and his administration down. They managed to get Ollie North tried and convicted on mostly frivolous charges, but that verdict was overturned on appeal because of the basic unfairness of the political process he went through.
Karen DeYoung had told the IPS class, “Most journalists now, most Western journalists at least, are very eager to seek out guerrilla groups, leftist groups, because you assume they must be the good guys.”
Yes, what’s what they assumed, and it was reflected in their coverage.
In 1981, however, Bradlee suffered a major scandal of his own when a Pulitzer Prize for the paper had to be given back for a story that turned out to be a lie. The Post had claimed there was a child heroin addict in the city named “Jimmy.” The problem was that the local police, after searching far and wide, couldn’t locate him to get him help, and the paper wouldn’t disclose his real name and whereabouts. It turned out that he had been made up by Post reporter, Janet Cooke, working under the watchful eye of Watergate reporter Bob Woodward, then-Metro editor.
In a famous exchange, Bradlee called Reed Irvine “a miserable, carping, retromingent vigilante.” It’s not really important what that insult means. It’s more important why Bradlee said it. Reed Irvine had exposed The Washington Post’s cover-up of the communist genocide in Cambodia. The main perpetrator was Post national news editor Laurence Stern.
In 1979, again, in one of my first assignments for Reed Irvine, I covered Stern’s memorial service. I reported that among those who eulogized Stern at the service, presided over by Bradlee, was the Washington station chief of the Cuban intelligence service, Teofilo Acosta. He praised Stern as a “good friend.” Rather than investigate Stern’s ties to Cuban intelligence, The Washington Post set up a memorial fund to honor Stern, called the Laurence Stern Fellowship.
The British Guardian—which sponsored the career of anti-NSA “journalist” Glenn Greenwald, a friend of America’s enemies around the world—notes that the Laurence Stern Fellowship welcomes a young British journalist for an internship at the Post each summer. The paper also noted that Stern was “one of Bradlee’s closest friends,” and that “many” of the former Stern fellows are “now senior Guardian journalists.”
To further confirm his liberal bent, President Obama in 2013 gave Bradlee the Presidential Medal of Freedom, saying Bradlee “told stories that needed to be told.” We all know that it’s just not true.
Bradlee used freedom of the press for partisan political purposes. That’s his real legacy.