An American journalistic icon passed away yesterday. Ben Bradlee was the editor of the Washington Post during Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s investigative reporting that was to become Watergate. Bradlee was the quintessential well-heeled news junkie with one foot on a banana peel and the other cemented firmly on the first step of the Lincoln Memorial: “with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right.”
Bradlee was infamous for making it known that being, “right” is what mattered more than the means to knowing you were right. Getting it right wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t without mistakes. But getting it right mattered more than anything else.
Who can watch any news network today and feel even the slightest bit of confidence that getting it right is what really matters? Getting it first matters. Getting it with images matters. Getting it in a surreptitious fashion matters. Getting it right? Sure, why not if that doesn’t cost any more.
In the 1976 movie, All the President’s Men (based upon Woodward and Bernstein’s book of the same name) Jason Robards won an Academy Award for his performance portraying Mr. Bradlee. Last year Bradlee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
I know I am being scornfully satirical and disingenuous in discounting the many journalists who still emulate Bradlee’s commitment to getting it right. Their inability to attract a larger audience that shares such an interest is a cultural reality beyond their control.
And yet how ironic is it that as we sit here in 2014 some of us are nostalgic for one of the darkest periods in American political history because we long for the truth – even when the truth might not be something we want to hear, or accept.