Ben Bradlee, Top Washington Post Editor During Watergate, Dies at 93

He was at the helm of the Washington Post during Watergate.

ByABC News
October 21, 2014, 7:55 PM

— -- Ben Bradlee, the legendary executive editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate era, has died, the newspaper reported on its website tonight. He was 93 and died of natural causes.

A native of Boston, Bradlee began his career at the age of 20 in a grand fashion. He graduated from Harvard, got married to his first wife, Jean Saltonstall, and joined the U.S. Navy, serving in the South Pacific.

SLIDESHOW: Ben Bradlee Through the Years

He went on to work for Newsweek, first in postwar Paris and then in Washington D.C., where he counted then-Senator John F. Kennedy as a friend. Bradlee was promoted to managing editor of the Washington Post in 1965 and rose through the ranks to become executive editor in 1968. It was a post Bradlee held until his retirement in 1991.

During his tenure, Bradlee steered the newspaper to national prominence, first by publishing Daniel Ellsberg's Pentagon Papers and then exposing the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

While Bradlee was known as a top editor in Washington, he became a household name when the movie "All the President's Men," detailing the Watergate scandal, hit the big screen in 1976.

Bradlee was portrayed by actor Jason Robards, who starred alongside Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, who played reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.

The Washington Post credits Bradlee with helping to expand its coverage by opening bureaus around the world, leading to it becoming one of the preeminent newspapers in the United States.

PHOTO: Ben Bradlee, executive editor of The Washington Post during the Watergate era is photographed at his home in Washington, June 3, 2012.
Ben Bradlee, executive editor of The Washington Post during the Watergate era is photographed at his home in Washington, June 3, 2012.

After his retirement, Bradlee was named vice president-at large of the newspaper. He reflected on the impact of journalism in a 2006 interview with PBS News Hour's Jim Lehrer.

"I mean, it changes your life, the pursuit of truth. And at least, if you know that you have tried to find the truth and gone past the first apparent truth towards the real truth, it's very exciting, I find," he said.

Bradlee's wife, Sally Quinn, said in a recent television interview with C-SPAN that her husband of 36 years had dementia and suffered a decline in health in recent months.

Seeing her husband's decline was "the most horrible experience I have ever had," Quinn said.

However, she said her ability to care for him was something she held "sacred."

Bradlee was awarded the Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2013 for his reporting and leadership during the Vietnam War and Watergate. He also still loved catching up with old colleagues -- something Quinn said her husband did until recently.

"He was going to the office once a week to have lunch with the guys," Quinn said. "They would talk about the good old days and journalism."

The newspaper won 17 Pulitzer Prizes under his tenure.

President Obama issued this statement on Bradlee's passing: "For Benjamin Bradlee, journalism was more than a profession – it was a public good vital to our democracy. A true newspaperman, he transformed the Washington Post into one of the country’s finest newspapers, and with him at the helm, a growing army of reporters published the Pentagon Papers, exposed Watergate, and told stories that needed to be told – stories that helped us understand our world and one another a little bit better. The standard he set – a standard for honest, objective, meticulous reporting – encouraged so many others to enter the profession. And that standard is why, last year, I was proud to honor Ben with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Today, we offer our thoughts and prayers to Ben’s family, and all who were fortunate to share in what truly was a good life."