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Newspaper Editor Ben Bradlee Discusses Career, Journalism

Former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, who guided the newspaper through Watergate, the Pentagon Papers and other crises, sits down for an extended conversation with Jim Lehrer about journalism and his career.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And finally tonight, a few words about truth and journalism from former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee. They're from an hour-long conversation he and I had that will air tonight as a "Free Speech" special on most PBS stations.

    You said that lying has taken the joy out of Washington. What do you mean?

  • BEN BRADLEE, Former Washington Post Editor:

    Well, I mean, I think a lot of people lie, and I don't think that they pay any price for lying the way it seems to me that we did when we were young, certainly I did when I was a teenager.

    One of the interesting things about reading all of the stories currently about big-shot businessmen who are going to jail, Enron types, the common denominator is that they didn't tell the truth.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    And it's just accepted that they lied. I mean, it's just assumed that they lied.

  • BEN BRADLEE:

    Well, it isn't by me, but…

  • JIM LEHRER:

    No, no, but I mean…

  • BEN BRADLEE:

    … society doesn't seem to be as outraged by it as they should. And it's really — it's one of the great, the worst of the sins, it seems to me, because you deceive people, and you deceive people originally on purpose, and then, if you don't correct it, you deceive them by nonfeasance.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    You've said also that all presidents lie. Do you really mean that literally?

  • BEN BRADLEE:

    Yes, I think they do. I think they do. And they lie because they don't search out the truth. They get involved in incidents that do not have a clear answer. And in the process of explaining those or trying to avoid those, they say things that aren't true.

    Now, we don't like to call those lies, maybe because it isn't quite bold enough, it isn't quite obvious enough.

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