HBO documentary recalls iconic ‘Newspaperman’ Ben Bradlee

Watergate exposers Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein comment in HBO profile

 “The Newspaperman: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee” debuts Monday, Dec. 4 on HBO.
“The Newspaperman: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee” debuts Monday, Dec. 4, on HBO.

Overseeing the breaking of the Watergate scandal isn’t the whole story of Ben Bradlee’s career, but there’s no question it was a major element.

The celebrated Washington Post editor is recalled as the HBO documentary “The Newspaperman: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee” debuts Monday, Dec. 4. Though the late subject (who died in 2014) basically narrates the special in his own words, many of his acquaintances and associates also weigh in, from his journalist widow Sally Quinn and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to Robert Redford and Tom Brokaw.

Of course, no Bradlee profile would be complete without Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Post reporters he backed through their investigation of the politically driven break-in at Washington, D.C.’s Watergate Hotel that ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Many of their recollections in “The Newspaperman” also fueled their book “All the President’s Men” and the 1976 movie version, which Redford produced and starred in (as Woodward). Jason Robards won an Oscar for his performance as Bradlee in the film.

Ben Bradlee
Ben Bradlee

Seen often on CNN as a commentator, Bernstein says for this article that he’s pleased the Bradlee documentary now exists, “particularly for a new generation of people in this country, both in and outside of journalism, who want to better understand the great exemplar of what reporting and editing should be about. They have an opportunity to see how lasting and important his values and methodology and philosophy of the press are.”

Woodward, who remains at The Post as an associate editor, believes “The Newspaperman” captures “all the dimensions” of Bradlee “and his independent spirit. What mattered the most to myself and Carl Bernstein was that he was the kind of editor who gave you running room. We could work on stories with no restraint. When we made mistakes, he was tough — but if they were made in good faith, (it was,) ‘OK. Don’t do it again.’ The essence of Ben was, ‘What have you got for me tomorrow?’ In other words, ‘Let’s move on.’”

As popular and enduring as “All the President’s Men” is in film form – an HBO showing of it immediately follows “The Newspaperman’s” debut – Bernstein appreciates that the new documentary spans the entirety of Bradlee’s work.

“Even in the book or the movie of ‘All the President’s Men,’ you understand that Bradlee was about much more than the Watergate story,” he notes. “He built a great institution with (longtime Washington Post publisher) Katharine Graham, and what it has stood for as a real monument to the values that transcend Watergate. Ben Bradlee inspired a generation of reporters … not just at The Post, but everywhere.”

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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