JIM LEHRER: Ben Bradlee is one of America's most
famous newspaper editors and he believes the practice
of journalism is more than a job.
BEN BRADLEE: I don't mean to sound arrogant, but
we're in a holy profession.
JIM LEHRER: A holy profession?
BEN BRADLEE: Yeah and the pursuit of truth is a holy
JIM LEHRER: Bradlee of the Post, as he calls himself,
the Washington Post. There for 30 years, he confronted
and lived through many a memorable journalistic moment,
some very high, some not so high. From all, he has
stories to tell and lessons to share.
JIM LEHRER: I'm Jim Lehrer. Ben Bradlee and I are
personal friends. We've talked often about our mutual
line of work, the difficult nooks and crannies of
being a journalist as well as the sweeping issues
and the glories. For this hour, we did our talking
on camera, at his home in Washington, D. C.. Ben,
most evidence, anecdotal, surveys, whatever, journalists
and journalism are not held in very high esteem right
now. What's happened; what's going on?
BEN BRADLEE: I wonder how much that that's changed.
I can't remember--we had a brief, little period, it
seems to me, after Watergate where we edged up to
about 50 percent in the, in the respect area, right
along with the congressmen and the lawyers. So, we've
never been very high.
JIM LEHRER: Why not? What is the--
BEN BRADLEE: Because we're bearers of bad news, I
think as much as anything else. My old editor used
to say, Bradlee, there's 400 planes land safely everyday
at National Airport and you don't cover one of them.
But one of them missed--
JIM LEHRER: You got it?
BEN BRADLEE: --you got it.
JIM LEHRER: Well, do you think that most Americans
understand what our, what our job is? What is it that
we do that they should understand?
BEN BRADLEE: We're trying to tell you everyday what
really went on in the last 24 hours, that's all, not
what they said happened and not what you think should
happen, but what did happen. Readers should expect
a honest, straightforward account of what the hell
went on yesterday, what's important. What is important.
JIM LEHRER: When they use the word true, hey, hey,
I want to know the truth, we're not in the truth business,
BEN BRADLEE: Well, we want to come real close. We're
not in any other kind of business. I mean, we're,
we're trying to get it right, I mean, and people accept
The Use of Anonymous
JIM LEHRER: Seeking the truth often involves the use
of anonymous sources. The most famous example was
at the heart of the Watergate scandal, Ben Bradlee's
most famous moment in the public sun. As Executive
Editor of the Post, he was the ultimate supervisor
of reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
Their stories were first about a 1972 political burglary
at Democratic Party headquarters, at the Watergate
Office Building, in Washington, D.C. Then the wiretapping
and coverup at the highest levels of the presidency,
the end result was the resignation of President Richard
Nixon. Woodward, Bernstein and Bradlee became household
names after the movie "All the President's Men." Dustin
Hoffman played Bernstein. Robert Redford portrayed
Woodward and Jason Robards won an Oscar for playing
JASON ROBARDS (Playing Ben Bradlee): You guys are
about to run a story that says the former attorney
general, the highest ranking law enforcement officer
in this country is a crook. Just be sure you are right.
JIM LEHRER: Along the way, the reporters were aided
by 'Deep Throat,' a well placed source who insisted
on complete anonymity. He helped point the reporters
in the right direction.
HAL HOLBROOKE (Portraying 'Deep Throat'): Where are
ROBERT REDFORD (Portraying Bob Woodward): The story
HAL HOLBROOKE (Portraying 'Deep Throat'): Tell me
what you know and I will confirm. I will keep you
in the right direction if I can, but that is all.
Just follow the money.
JIM LEHRER: Much of the credit or blame, depending
on how you want to see this, for the proliferation
of the use of anonymous sources is laid right at your
feet yours and the Washington Post and Woodward
and Bernstein as a result of 'Deep Throat' and Watergate.
BEN BRADLEE: Yeah.
JIM LEHRER: Guilty as charged?
BEN BRADLEE: Often, yeah. But I mean, take Watergate,
not that I want to dwell on--
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
BEN BRADLEE: --it at all. But if you are, if you
have a high official telling you that there is monkey
business going on at the highest level, you've got
to listen to him and as you listen, to try to find
out what it is and how you can get a piece of it,
You've got to play by their rules, to begin with.
JIM LEHRER: But the rules that the source sets?
BEN BRADLEE: Yeah. Now, you don't have to--that's
just to get him to talk.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah, yeah.
BEN BRADLEE: Now, once he talks, if, if--you know,
I tell, I used to tell young reporters if a guy says
it's off the record and you've admitted that you'll
accept it that way, I bet you that 80 percent of the
time, if you ask him why the hell can't I put that
on the record, it doesn't-- he'll say, okay, go ahead
and run it. So, it's sort of an instinctive, instinctive
demand put up by news sources just to say, well, I
don't want to say this publicly.
I don't want to say this on the record. But I think
it's been abused by the press. No question it's been
abused about as often as the press gets abused by
the source. And don't think it's--that's unfairly--
JIM LEHRER: Explain that relationship.
BEN BRADLEE: Well, I mean, the, the--people don't
talk to reporters because they love them. They talk
to them because they want to talk to them. And you
can't make a guy talk. I mean, without the power of
subpoena and a grand jury, you can't make them talk.
So, when they talk to you, they want to talk to
you. They're trying to get over their message. You
understand that and you know what they're trying to
do if you're a good reporter. And a good reporter
must know that. Why the hell is he talking to me?
JIM LEHRER: Explain from your perspective why it's
so important for a reporter, once he or she says to
a source, this is--I will protect you; I will protect
your identity, why it's so important to keep it.
BEN BRADLEE: Because if it gets out that you can--did
not keep your word, there's a perfectly good reason
for someone never to talk to you again. The principle
is that, if you give your word, you keep it. And that
may not seem much to a reader right now, but it's,
it's, it's the, it's the framework for your reputation.
JIM LEHRER: And that trumps all other interests?
BEN BRADLEE: No, no, if you, if you gave your word
to somebody and you then see that guy commit a murder,
I don't think you got any obligation or any desire
to keep it quiet. If you give your word to someone
that you will not talk, you won't talk, unless there
is an overpowering, legal question involved that would
be against the best interests of the people.
JIM LEHRER: You're saying that the reporter and his
or her editors or producers or whatever they are should
make that decision, not the courts, not the law enforcement
BEN BRADLEE: After real close examination and scrutiny,
yes. I mean, the reporters and editors are in business
to tell the truth. They're not in the, in the business
of giving people free passage.
JIM LEHRER: But do you agree that, that the success
of the use of anonymous source, in the case of 'Deep
Throat' and Watergate, kind of glamorized this to
a point that [unintelligible] causes all of these
people now that--
BEN BRADLEE: Well, I can't help them, but that was
an interesting time. And as, as a matter of fact,
in Watergate, the amount of specific information that
'Deep Throat' gave to Woodward and Bernstein, specific
information--on Thursday, at 4:30, so-and-so said
so-and-so, you can put in your hat.
I mean, there isn't very much of it. But what was
so vital in, in that case was to have your reporter
be told, don't waste your time on that. That's not
going to get you anywhere, but look at this.