The Newspaperman: The Life and Times
of Ben Bradlee (9/10)
by Tony Medley
Runtime 89 minutes.
This is a fascinating
but zero-warts homage to the Managing Editor of the Washington Post who
was made famous by the film All the President’s Men (1976). It’s
told with interviews with all the fawning A-listers who admired him,
Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Jim Lehrer, John Dean, Norman Lear, Robert
Redford, Sally Quinn, Tina Brown, Tom Brokaw, and a myriad of others.
There is nary a disparaging word (except from Henry Kissinger).
entering Harvard, Bradlee was chosen at random to be included in The
Grant Study that followed him and several of his 1940 classmates for 20
years. Interviews with the director of the study, George Valliant, are
interspersed throughout the film.
Directed by John Maggio, the film includes some shocking scandalous
stories of the apparently constantly randy President JFK, with whom
Bradlee had an unprofessional best-friend relationship since Bradlee’s
paper was reporting on him constantly. One, relating to JFK’s
relationship with Bradlee’s second wife, is beyond shocking.
interviewed are the two wives he callously dumped because he met someone
younger and sexier. Not mentioned is the perjury he committed in falsely
testifying in the 1965 trial of the murderer of his sister-in law,
apparently protecting his deceased friend JFK in order not to reveal one
of the President’s many sexual indiscretions. The movie does not compare
that with his exuberance in attacking President Nixon’s indiscretions
which would suggest a troubling hypocrisy.
the many incidents covered is the Janet Cook fiasco in which she won a
Pulitzer Prize for phony stories about a drug addict that he published
in the Post, for which he was partially responsible.
Asked at the end if
he had any regrets, he thinks, then says, “I don’t know, if I hurt Tony
Bradlee (wife #2, who broke up his first marriage; only to have her
marriage to Bradlee broken up by Sally Quinn, 20 years younger) I would
regret that. If I hurt Jean Saltonsal Bradlee (wife #1), I would regret
that.” Then, thinking a little, he smiles and says, “I don’t know; I
don’t regret very much,” and laughs. According to PBS’s Jim Lehrer,
“Bradlee always knew he was the luckiest SOB in the world.”
The film lost its way
when it did not deal in more detail with the charm and bonhomie on the
one hand and the inconsiderate, ruthless way he treated two loving wives
and mothers of his children, his perjured testimony, and his hypocrisy
on the other hand. Because of Watergate he is known as a man of
principle. But would a man of principle treat his wives and family so
hardheartedly? It would have been a much better film had it dealt in
detail with these moral chiaroscuros that were apparent in Bradlee
instead of ignoring them to produce a simplistic paean to a complex man.
HBO Dec. 4