- Joe Gross American-Statesman Staff
The archive of legendary Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, who led the newspaper through the Watergate scandal and beyond, now resides permanently at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas.
Bradlee, who died at age 93 in 2014, placed his papers on deposit at the Ransom Center in 2012, pledging to donate them upon his death.
“The next step will be to process and catalog the papers,” Ransom Center spokesperson Jen Tisdale said. She said papers will be made available to the public soon after that process in completed, which will take a minimum of a year and a half.
Bradlee was the Post’s executive editor from 1968 to 1991, during which the newspaper picked up 17 Pulitzer Prizes. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
“Ben often quoted Philip Graham (husband of Katharine Graham and a former publisher of the Washington Post) saying that ‘journalism is the first rough draft of history,’” said Sally Quinn, Bradlee’s wife. “This is why he wanted his papers to go to the Ransom Center along with those of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Historians can now take these rough drafts and enlarge the record for posterity.”
The Ransom Center acquired Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate papers for $5 million in 2003.
“We are delighted that the Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin has acquired Ben Bradlee’s extensive archive,” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein said in a joint statement. “Ben, as his archive will show, is a history, political and journalism lesson all by himself.”
The archive contains Bradlee’s professional correspondence with journalists, elected officials, cultural figures and corporate executives; newsroom files and calendars; files from Bradlee’s Newsweek tenure from 1957 to 1965; materials relating to his books “Conversations with Kennedy” (1975) and “A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures” (1995); desk diaries and personal items.
In a news release, the Ransom Center said the collection includes original incoming correspondence and carbons or photocopies of Bradlee’s outgoing letters.
Bradlee’s legacy was secured when — following two years of intense reporting from Woodward and Bernstein — a then-mysterious June 17, 1972, break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., was linked to then-President Richard Nixon, who resigned in 1974 in the wake of the scandal.
The Watergate scandal became a defining moment for Bradlee, the Washington Post and the 1970s. Material relating to the scandal is also in the archive, ranging from staff memoranda tracing the newspaper’s response to events to versions of Bradlee’s affidavit regarding confidentiality of sources.
In response to Nixon’s resignation, author Lillian Hellman wrote to Bradlee, “I guess it’s time for me to say you have become my hero. And I ain’t had many.”
Bradlee was known for his close relationship with the Kennedy White House; he was John F. Kennedy’s neighbor in Washington before the latter was elected president and headed off to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
The archive includes a letter from Jacqueline Kennedy, who wrote after her husband’s assassination in 1963: “I consider that my life is over and I will spend the rest of it waiting for it really to be over.”
There is also a memo from Bradlee to the Post’s then-publisher Katharine Graham concerning the making of movie “All the President’s Men,” which starred Robert Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein.
While Bradlee did not have a problem with the production using the Post’s name (“Whatever we’re going to get, we’re going to get whether they call it the Post or the Bugle”), he did balk on the use of his name, her’s and that of Post colleagues, “certainly before knowing who is going to play any of us, and what he or she is going to be made to say.”
Jason Robards won the best supporting actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Bradlee in “All the President’s Men.”
Bradlee made the news in May when his FBI file was released after a Freedom of Information Act request.
According to the file, former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover thought Bradlee to be a “colossal liar” after Hoover considered a 1964 Newsweek article to be unflattering.
However, the FBI also considered recruiting Bradlee as a “double agent,” a plan which never came to pass.
In 2013, the Ben Bradlee Fellowship in Journalism endowment was created to support scholarly research in journalism and related collections at the Ransom Center.