Former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, of Watergate fame, dies aged 93

A 2001 photo of former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee arriving at the Washington National Cathedral to attend the funeral service for former Post chairman Katharine Graham in Washington, DC. Bradlee, who oversaw the paper's coverage of
A 2001 photo of former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee arriving at the Washington National Cathedral to attend the funeral service for former Post chairman Katharine Graham in Washington, DC. Bradlee, who oversaw the paper's coverage of Watergate, has died at the age of 93. -- PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Legendary former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, who oversaw reporting on the Watergate scandal that brought down then United States President Richard Nixon, died on Tuesday. He was 93.

Mr Bradlee, who died of natural causes at his Washington home, leaves a lasting legacy at the Post and in the wider media, and has been hailed as a genius. He was also a friend to John F. Kennedy.

Mr Donald E. Graham, who served as publisher of the Post and was Mr Bradlee's boss, said: "Ben Bradlee was the best American newspaper editor of his time and had the greatest impact on his newspaper of any modern editor."

US President Barack Obama, when he awarded Mr Bradlee the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year, said Mr Bradlee's Post was a reminder "that our freedom as a nation rests on our freedom of the press". It was Mr Graham's mother Katharine Graham who was publisher of the Post when Mr Bradlee charged young reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein with investigating the Watergate burglary.

The reporting uncovered a vast scheme of surveillance and dirty tricks, and the resulting coverage led to the impeachment and resignation of Nixon in 1974, and the prosecution of dozens of administration officials.

"Ben was a true friend and genius leader in journalism," Mr Bernstein and Mr Woodward said in a joint statement on the Post website as news of his death emerged.

"His one unbending principle was the quest for the truth and the necessity of that pursuit. He had the courage of an army," they said, calling him "an original who charted his own course".

During Mr Bradlee's leadership from 1968 to 1991, the Post, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its Watergate stories, also played a role in the successful legal challenge to the publication of the Pentagon Papers revealing the political manoeuvres leading up to the Vietnam War.

The Watergate coverage transformed the notion of political investigative journalism, and became the topic of a best-selling book, and later a film, All the President's Men.

"If you had to pick a single figure to represent the pivot from the old relationship of journalists to politicians to the current relationship of journalists and politicians, it would have to be Ben Bradlee," said Mr Alan Mutter, a former editor at the Chicago Daily News and Sun-Times, and now a media consultant.

"The game for the press and politicians changed dramatically with Watergate, when the discretion and mutual professional courtesies long enjoyed by press and politicians gave way to a searing investigation of not only the Watergate break-in but all the wrongdoing that preceded and followed it."

The result, said Mr Mutter, was "a new era of greater transparency than ever before."

Professor Dan Kennedy, a journalism professor at Northeastern University, said Mr Bradlee and a handful of others "represented the apex of the editor as a colorful, swashbuckling personality" and helped transform the Post into a nationally significant newspaper.

"Today's editors, though they may be just as skilled, do not have the same public profile - they are managers first and foremost. Bradlee represents the end of the heroic era in newspapering," Prof Kennedy said.

Mr Bradlee was born in 1921 to a Boston family that traced its history to the early Massachusetts settlers of the 1600s.

After graduating from Harvard University, Mr Bradlee served as a communications officer for the US Navy during World War II.

He worked as a Washington Post reporter before taking a position at the US embassy in Paris, and later became a correspondent for Newsweek, starting in France.

As a reporter, Mr Bradlee became a friend and confidant of former president John F. Kennedy, covering his successful 1960 presidential campaign.