Ben Bradlee, the hard-driving editor who reigned over The Washington Post newsroom with the style of a well-dressed swashbuckler and the profane vocabulary of dockworker as the newspaper helped topple President Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal, died on Tuesday at age 93.
Bradlee's death at his Washington home of natural causes was announced by the Post, which reported late last month that its former editor had begun hospice care after suffering from Alzheimer's disease for the past several years.
As executive editor from 1968 until 1991, Bradlee became one of the most important figures in Washington, as well as part of journalism history, while transforming the Post from a staid morning daily into one of the most dynamic and respected publications in the United States.
Bradlee's work guiding young reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they traced a 1972 burglary at Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate office and apartment complex back to the Nixon White House has been celebrated from journalism schools to Hollywood.
The Post won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the scandal, which forced Nixon to quit under threat of impeachment in August 1974.
Bradlee gave Woodward and Bernstein license to pursue the scandal and its cover-up vigorously, approving their use of the unidentified "Deep Throat" source, and the newspaper published about 400 articles about Watergate over 28 months.
The Post's coverage - along with the book and movie about it, "All the President's Men" - inspired a generation of investigative reporters.
"I think the great lesson of Watergate was probably the stick-tuitiveness of the Post," Bradlee once told the American Journalism Review. "The fact that we hunkered down and backed the right horse. I think that was a wonderful lesson for publishers, too."
Upsetting presidents was a Bradlee stock-in-trade. In 1972 the Post joined The New York Times in publishing stories based on the Pentagon Papers, a secret government account of Vietnam War decisions, despite heavy legal pressure. The Post also uncovered details of the Iran-Contra scandal that rocked Ronald Reagan's White House.
Friend of JFK
"I think this shows the (adversarial free-press) system works," Bradlee said. "It's a wonderful control on governments that are not all that careful on policing themselves."