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Reporters Committee remembers Ben Bradlee’s fight for a free press

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The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press issued a statement today on the death of Benjamin C. Bradlee, former…

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press issued a statement today on the death of Benjamin C. Bradlee, former executive editor of The Washington Post. Bradlee was a part of the original group of journalists who founded the Reporters Committee in 1970.

“Much will be written and said over the next few days as we mourn Ben Bradlee, one of the great newsmen of our time. Ben was a leader in his newsroom and in the news business for his unyielding stands against government officials who would try to interfere with the right to gather and publish the news. He also was a champion for the Reporters Committee and its work from its inception.

“Whether he was overseeing publication of the Pentagon Papers as the government threatened legal action, or pushing his reporters to dig into the morass later known as Watergate, Ben stood up and refused to back down whenever the government tried to get in the way of publishing the truth. This undaunted leadership inspired those who worked for him, but it reached much further, encouraging generations of journalists to take on the powerful with the full belief in the unassailable protection of the First Amendment.

“Ben was also a great friend to the Reporters Committee. In 1970, he was part of the group of journalists who met at Georgetown University Law Center to find a way for the media to push back against a growing tide of subpoenas from the Nixon administration. That group became the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Ben was part of our growth ever since. We were proud to honor him with our First Amendment Award in 1995 and to welcome him as a friend and introducer in later years when we honored former Post Publisher Katharine Graham and later journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Over the past 44 years, Ben continued to support both our fundraising and legal battles, enabling us to uphold unabated the original mission of the Reporters Committee – to defend journalists and provide the legal resources they need to gather and report the news, preserving the public trust granted the press by the First Amendment.

“Ben’s passion for freedom of the press inspired us all. He will be missed.”

Several members of the Reporters Committee Steering Committee worked for Bradlee at the Post and remembered his leadership. They include:

Steering Committee Chair Pierre Thomas, senior justice correspondent, ABC News: “Ben Bradlee was a champion for journalists, committed to everything we hold dear in our organization. He was an icon, brilliant, larger than life. It was an honor and a privilege to work for him. I owe my career in large part to him.”

Steering Committee Vice Chair Saundra Torry, editorial writer and member of the editorial board, USA TODAY: “When my Chicago newspaper went out of business, I came for a whirlwind day of interviews at The Washington Post. My last stop was lunch with Ben Bradlee. To say I was nervous wouldn’t really cover it. But it turned into a raucous two hours. Ben was funny, gracious and made clear he liked gutsy, risk-taking reporters who would do anything to get the story. The day ended with an offer, and for many years, I got to work for the best newspaper editor of our generation. It was a privilege.”

Steering Committee Member Jeff Leen, assistant managing editor-investigative unit, The Washington Post: “Ben Bradlee’s spirit lives on in the Washington Post’s newsroom in its zest for the kind of investigative reporting that is crucial to democracy and fulfills the highest mission of journalism.”

Ben Bradlee (2nd from left) with wife Sally Quinn and honorees Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward (l-r) at the 2010 Reporters Committee First Amendment Awards Dinner. Bradlee, a 1995 honoree, introduced Woodward and Bernstein at the event.



About the Reporters Committee

Founded in 1970, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers free legal support to thousands of working journalists and media lawyers each year. It is a leader in the fight against persistent efforts by government officials to impede the release of public information, whether by withholding documents or threatening reporters with jail. In addition to its 24/7 Legal Defense Hotline, the Reporters Committee conducts cutting-edge legal research, publishes handbooks and guides on media law issues, files frequent friend-of-the-court legal briefs and offers challenging fellowships and internships for young lawyers and journalists. For more information, go to, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· History