JIM LEHRER: Ben Bradlee, welcome. Do you have a sense of relief that the Deep Throat secret is finally out?
BEN BRADLEE: Well, you know I, strangely, I don't. That wasn't weighing very heavily on my mind that someday I was going to have to, you know, take my shoes off and get to work again. It wasn't. I mean, it excited me, the couple of last few days it's just been such fun for me --
JIM LEHRER: Why? Why? What's been fun about it?
BEN BRADLEE: Well, I mean, it's the old engine is humming again and I was really -- I mean, it was a story about which I knew more about than anybody else except Woodward and Bernstein.
JIM LEHRER: Why was that? Why was there only just the three of you? Why were there no other editor, why no publishers, somebody else that knew this but the three of you?
BEN BRADLEE: Well, I mean, Woodward had the secret. Woodward knew Felt's name and he sort of doled it out. He told Bernstein -- you know, I don't even know when he told Bernstein. And he told me when I asked him, and I don't know why I didn't ask him earlier --
JIM LEHRER: When did you ask him?
BEN BRADLEE: I asked him the couple of weeks after the president resigned.
JIM LEHRER: After the president resigned?
BEN BRADLEE: After the president resigned because -- you know, Woodward said, "I got this friend who's well-placed." And we'd say, "Well, ask him this," and he'd come back with an answer and the answer was always right, always right, and so there was no tilt button flashing in my eyes all the time.
JIM LEHRER: So you were never tempted before that to say, who is this guy?
BEN BRADLEE: Well, I knew generically that he was a high official in the government -
JIM LEHRER: The FBI, did you know he was FBI?
BEN BRADLEE: I didn't know he was FBI; I'd suspected he was in the Justice Department.
JIM LEHRER: In retrospect, do you think that was right, not to press him for the name of this guy?
BEN BRADLEE: I probably wouldn't do that again, but I was a younger man at that time and --
JIM LEHRER: But these were kid reporters. Why did you give so much faith in them?
BEN BRADLEE: Well, because they were right.
JIM LEHRER: How did you know they were right?
BEN BRADLEE: Because nobody told me they were wrong and nobody could prove they were wrong; they weren't wrong.
And, you know, I am very proud of the fact that we had perhaps four hundred Watergate stories and we made one mistake and it was a tiny mistake; it sounded big because it enabled the person who had told us to deny it to Dan Schorr and it was on all over the television.
JIM LEHRER: What was the story?
BEN BRADLEE: The story was the existence of a slush fund under Haldeman's direction --
JIM LEHRER: Right.
BEN BRADLEE: -- and that one of those guys had testified, so testified to the grand jury. Well, he didn't tell the grand jury; he told prosecutors but he didn't testify to the grand jury.
JIM LEHRER: And 400 stories, that's the only mistake.
BEN BRADLEE: That's the only mistake that I know about, and we had the fund at 350,000 and when we made the correction we were able to say there was 700,000.
JIM LEHRER: What's your own feeling about why Mark Felt talked to Bob Woodward?
BEN BRADLEE: I think Mark Felt -- you see, I don't know him.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
BEN BRADLEE: So I'm not absolutely sure, but my feeling is that Mark Felt thought that something was rotten and a crime was being committed and he wanted to do something about it. He couldn't very well go to his boss, who was L. Patrick Gray at that time.
JIM LEHRER: Who was then the new head of the FBI --
BEN BRADLEE: The acting head of the FBI.
JIM LEHRER: Acting head of the FBI.
BEN BRADLEE: He was throwing documents off the bridge in the Potomac River. He couldn't very well go to the attorney general, who was en route to jail.
So you know, you've been in this town a long time; you look around; you couldn't go to the White House and tell anybody in the White House, so who are you going to tell? I thought he made a brilliant choice.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah, right. But did it ever occur to you that even for a second that this guy might be having you all at the Washington Post -- he may have some ulterior motives of his own, he was using you all?
BEN BRADLEE: Yeah, well, I think that about a lot of people who talk to us; you know that people talk to you for a reason and they talk to you for a reason and they talk to me for a reason.
And it's quite similar reasons -- they're trying to sell you something and you take a look at it and see, quite normally you know what they're selling.
JIM LEHRER: Sure. Did you ever ask Woodward what do you think this guy is selling?
BEN BRADLEE: I asked him what's his motive -- sure, we talked about that.
JIM LEHRER: And what did Woodward say?
BEN BRADLEE: Woodward said that he that he thinks he's mad at the fact that the process is being perverted by these guys.
JIM LEHRER: Looking back on it now, you talked about these 400 stories and Felt's role in all of these, was he a -- for the most part -- a primary source or a confirming source for a lot of this?
BEN BRADLEE: He told the guys, he pointed them in the right direction and he steered them off. If they went down a certain path chasing a story, and he said, he would say, "Don't waste your time on that; it's not important; look this way."
And I am sure that there were specific questions that he was able to answer them too, but his most use, as I recreated, was to in sort of the assignment process he told them what to concentrate on.
And that was essential; it cut out a lot of wasted time. And, mind you, he had this role, of the 400 stories he had a hand in a portion of them --
JIM LEHRER: Not all of them.
BEN BRADLEE: Not all of them and he was the dominant source in the beginning but not in every single story.
JIM LEHRER: How important was he -- even though you didn't know his name at the beginning, you knew Woodward and Bernstein had this important source within the government, that's all you knew. How important was that to you as the executive editor, not only printing these stories but for the most part printing them above the fold on the front page?
BEN BRADLEE: Well I mean, if you're in for a nickel, in for a dime, I mean, there was no point in writing this stuff, as volatile as it was, and meaningful, if you were going to just bury it in the --
JIM LEHRER: Sure, but my point is that if there had not been a Deep Throat type figure, would you have been as confident and as likely to have run a story?
BEN BRADLEE: Not in the beginning. But I've really spent a lot of time wondering about that. I think once it got into the courts and once the grand jury got ahold of it, and once Judge Sirica got ahold of it, you had a pretty good head of steam there and it would have been hard to derail.
And up until and I think the hearings, the Senate hearings would have been later; and they might not have had the impact that they did have, but once the tapes were out --
JIM LEHRER: The White House tapes, yeah, right. Since this story broke a day or so ago there's been a lot of debate, as you know, about whether Mark Felt should be looked upon now as a hero, as a villain. How do you look upon him?
BEN BRADLEE: I don't see -- where's the villainy --
JIM LEHRER: Well, the charge is that hey, this is the guy who was number two of the FBI; his first responsibility was to the government of the United States, not to the Washington Post.
BEN BRADLEE: So he should go to the government? Do you have a candidate? Should he have gone to see Colson? Should he have gone to see Liddy? No.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
BEN BRADLEE: He chose somebody that he thought gave him a better shot than these people who were going to be indicted or were indicted or en route to jail, and, you know, I think history proved he was right.
JIM LEHRER: And what about those who have said in the last few days that he was part of a conspiracy, maybe not a spoken conspiracy, but part of a conspiracy to bring down the Nixon presidency and he used you all to help do it?
BEN BRADLEE: Well, I mean, I think we're harder to use than that and I think he wanted this conspiracy disclosed, and I think, I doubt that he knew the full measure of the conspiracy, but he knew about certain wrongs that were being committed, certain cover-ups that were being committed, and he thought that should be disclosed and then devil take the high most. See what happens --
JIM LEHRER: An honorable man to you, he did an honorable thing?
BEN BRADLEE: Absolutely. I feel very strongly about it.
JIM LEHRER: Are you annoyed at all that you got scooped on your own story?
BEN BRADLEE: You know, the rest of the business seems to be trying to work up how the Post got beaten --
JIM LEHRER: But this wasn't the way you all had planned it, is it?
BEN BRADLEE: I thought we'd --
JIM LEHRER: -- read about it in Vanity Fair?
BEN BRADLEE: I thought the way it would come out is when Deep Throat died, and we were ready for that.
JIM LEHRER: You were ready?
BEN BRADLEE: Yes, sir.
JIM LEHRER: How were you ready?
BEN BRADLEE: We were ready because I went to Woodward and said, what are you going to do when Deep Throat -- you know, I don't have any power over there. I've been out of there 13 years.
JIM LEHRER: But you're still vice president at large --
BEN BRADLEE: You can barely get it out, can you?
JIM LEHRER: Hey, you're Ben Bradlee. You're always going to have power at the Washington Post.
BEN BRADLEE: I talk to Woodward a lot and I said, are you ready for Deep Throat's death, are you ready to reveal, you know, because it's going to be a big damned story and you know Bob -- well, or something, and I think he went and started typing right away. He's finished his book
JIM LEHRER: He'd already written a book, right?
BEN BRADLEE: No, he hadn't. But he was writing it from that day on. And he's finished it; it's in New York now being edited.
JIM LEHRER: This was the way the story, the Watergate --
BEN BRADLEE: The Watergate --
JIM LEHRER: -- the whole Deep Throat story -- why is that story not appearing in the Washington Post first?
BEN BRADLEE: It's appeared.
JIM LEHRER: No. I mean, that was a very small story you had this morning.
BEN BRADLEE: Five thousand words.
JIM LEHRER: Well, okay, but that book is going to be probably 75,000 words, don't you think?
BEN BRADLEE: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: That doesn't bother you?
BEN BRADLEE: No.
JIM LEHRER: Why not?
BEN BRADLEE: Because I'd been there before Woodward and, you know, they write books, and he writes books, and I don't want the whole thing; I just want the story first.
JIM LEHRER: There was some hesitancy first -- the day before yesterday among you all about confirming whether or not --
BEN BRADLEE: Yeah.
JIM LEHRER: What was the problem?
BEN BRADLEE: Well, here's the problem. You give your word to somebody that you will never tell. But it's not written, you know, "never" is not defined -- is that -- carry on to death presumably and that's what we were all working on. But if the guy whom you are protecting by your silence starts talking and reveals this information somewhere else in some other way, I consider that you're free to act --
JIM LEHRER: And that was the argument you made, right?
BEN BRADLEE: Yes. And I made it to Bob, and Bob made the other argument -- and I say my word is my word -- and I say my word is my word and if you -- I gave Woodward my word. I didn't give Felt, I never met Felt, so I said, if you say, no, it's going to be no. But I think we'd look silly if this story, which had the smell of truth to it, I mean, you read it, you knew it was true --
JIM LEHRER: And you really knew it was true.
BEN BRADLEE: I really knew --
JIM LEHRER: You really knew. I mean, you think it had the smell of truth to everybody who read the story and it was just going to be a -- but I mean, the fact -- you're comfortable with the fact that it was broken by Vanity Fair, not the Washington Post?
BEN BRADLEE: I'm comfortable by the fact that the information -- that he -- Felt went public with it by talking to the Vanity Fair people. I guess I wish it had been me but I mean, I'll tell you I had enough on my hands that day to -- and it was a great story. I thought the Vanity Fair story was pretty damned good, too.
JIM LEHRER: And you're clean in that nobody could ever say the Washington Post broke its word?
BEN BRADLEE: Absolutely not.
JIM LEHRER: Because of it. Let me ask you finally, what, if anything, do you think all of this Deep Throat stuff the last few days -- now that the whole story is out -- says about the ongoing, the current debate about the use of anonymous sources? What should we take from this?
BEN BRADLEE: Well, I think you should take -- that it offers proof of the fact that anonymous stories -- anonymous sources can be handled properly and be useful to society, and that when you -- before you throw reporters in jail for keeping their sources anonymous, you'd better be careful.
JIM LEHRER: But you have also been outspoken in saying that they've been overused in recent years.
BEN BRADLEE: I have. But editors have got to know the difference. Reporters I think got lazy at one point and started picking up some skinny and they say, "Well, as one official said."
And we started a campaign at the Post in my time by saying, you know, if you have to be anonymous, let's say, is it a man, is it a woman, is it Army, is it Navy, is it inside the government, outside, Republican, Democrat, old, young?
You can help the reader a lot, and you can pretty much -- there are other little tricks that you can use; most of these stories where the lead of the sources is identified as anonymous, the name will be mentioned somewhere in the story.
JIM LEHRER: Deep Throat, does he deserve to go down in history at this stage of the game at least as probably not only the most famous but the most important anonymous source in the history of journalism?
BEN BRADLEE: Well, I don't -- you know --
JIM LEHRER: What do you think?
BEN BRADLEE: I think he is an important -- I think he's a sidebar like all the rest of us are sidebars, but he played an important role in an important story, and he stayed anonymous because he thought that was the way to play it.
And I think he'll go down -- he had it both ways. He had it both ways. I mean, Woodward would have identified him the day he died or as soon as we could get it out of him after, you know, Felt died.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
BEN BRADLEE: And I think he did a great service to society.
JIM LEHRER: Ben Bradlee, thank you very much.