• Virginia Tolles

Where's Ben Bradlee When We Need Him?

Today’s reporters, like those for the past fifty years, all wish they were Woodward and Bernstein. They want to uncover the crime of the century and send heads rolling. There’s just one thing they are forgetting: Woodward and Bernstein had Ben Bradlee!

Ben Bradlee, one of the most prominent post-war journalists, was the managing editor of the Washington Post when Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein investigated the break-in at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters in the Watergate complex in 1972. Those two young reporters wondered why anyone would be snooping around the DNC at two o’clock in the morning and went to work to find out. Each bit of evidence seemed monumental to them, and they wanted to take it to press. Ben Bradlee told them to cool their jets until they had the proof necessary to ensure their stories were accurate. Woodward and Bernstein chafed at the bit, but when they went to press, it meant something, something accurate, something believable.

That is what is missing today. Today’s anxious young reporters do not have a Ben Bradlee to tell them that good initial findings are not enough. You have to have proof at each step of an investigation. Otherwise, all you have is defamatory fiction. And that is not news reporting. That is libel. That is irresponsible journalism. That is kids having fun at the expense of others, oftentimes, innocent others. And that is just plain wrong!

So, newspapers, where is your Ben Bradlee? If you don’t have one, hire one, and make sure he (or she) sticks to his (or her) guns the way the Washington Post’s Bradlee did. You’ll be glad you did. Your newspaper will retain its credibility, and that will ensure that you have the circulation you need.

That will also help to safeguard the Constitution of these United States of America by not threatening the rationale of the First Amendment. We need free speech, but it needs to be truthful speech. Anyone can spin yarn, but it takes serious investigative reporting and dedication to the Constitution to write and publish the truth.

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