It never occurred to me, when I left his office, that Washington DC”s best kept secret, one he”d hidden for over 30years, and which I”d read about in admiration since my childhood, would be revealed in the same week as our meeting. The person I am talking about is the legendary journalist Ben Bradlee, the ex-Managing Editor of the Washington Post newspaper. He was a leader who succeeded in toppling another leader, then United States President Richard Nixon, by supporting the work of two unknown but daring young reporters, during what later became known as the Watergate scandal which changed the history of US journalism.
Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward, and Carl Bernstein didn”t reveal their secret for thirty three years, until the source willingly exposed himself. We all heard President George W. Bush expressing his content for finally knowing the identity of one of the city”s longest kept secrets, who is Deep Throat?
Coincidentally, Deep Throat made himself known to the world a few days after a visit arranged for us by the columnist Jim Hoagland to meet Bill Bradlee. Hoagland met us at the entrance to the Washington Posts” offices in the capital and, together, we entered the office of the former Managing Editor, retired since 1991.
I saw a man with a predator smile whose face is marked by the passage of time; he was the ideal Managing Editor. With a fatherly tone, Bradlee spoke of the two secrets to his success: Katherine Graham, the Washington Post publisher, and good journalists. He recalled how, when Mrs. Graham offered him the editorial chair, he accepted, under one condition: that he has the right to select his own editorial staff. He added, as advice, "I wanted the best journalist to cover the Pentagon, the White House, and events in the city."
After the secret of Deep Throat became public, I watched Bob Woodward, the journalist who Bradlee had supported and encouraged, admit, on television, owing his success to "Mrs. Graham and a strong Managing Editor, Bill Bradlee." In other words, excellence in journalism, in Bradlee”s opinion occurs with an understanding publisher and a good journalist, and in Bob Woodward”s view, a strong publisher and an equally strong Editor.
Such is the winning journalistic formula both ascribed to, on different occasions. I heard, firsthand, Bradlee”s opinion in his office, while I listened to that of Woodward during his interview with Larry King, on CNN. As much as I was thrilled by my meeting with Bradlee, I was dismayed a few days later when I saw the dead body of Lebanese journalist Samir Qassir slumped in the front seat of his car in Beirut. I asked myself a question: Would an Arab journalist successfully keep a secret for 30 years, let alone overthrow a President? I very much doubt so.
The revelation of the identity of the Watergate source, my conversation with Bradlee, and what Woodward said on television, all added to the consternation I felt as I read a book on a the history of Arab journalism which was filled with lies, illusions, and the settlement of old scores, as its authors falsified the events of 2003 and 1950. This drives me to say that we, in the Arab World, are in desperate need of a winning journalistic formula similar to that of the Washington Post during Bradlee”s tenure. This is the one and only way to achieve the press we aspire to, without lies and false accounts of heroism.