Any of the most important events of my life seem to have occurred by accident. Like not getting off The Federal at the Baltimore train station for a job interview at The Baltimore Sun, and instead staying on to Washington for a job interview at The Washington Post. And, when I moved to the Washington bureau of NEWSWEEK, like buying a house in 1957 in Georgetown on the north side of the 3300 block of N Street, NW, only months before the junior senator from Massachusetts and his wife-John and Jacqueline Kennedy--bought a house on the north side of the block.
Our first contact as couples beyond handshakes came on a sunny Sunday afternoon walking slowly through Georgetown, wheeling baby carriages. Their baby was Caroline, and ours was Dino, born just after Christmas in 1958. It was a warm Sunday in early 1959, and we ended up in their back garden, looking each other over.
I remember thinking how attractive he was, how gracefully he moved, despite his slight stoop. We discovered we were all going to the same dinner that night, a big bash given by the former Ambassador to Paris -- and now Treasury Secretary-- Douglas Dillon, and his wife Phyllis. In fact I sat next to Jackie, and Jack sat next to my wife, Tony. We came home together, and by the time we said good night, we were friends.
We had been invited to sweat out the West Virginia vote with the Kennedys in May 1960. To help pass the time, we decided to go to a movie. Jack had selected something called "Suddenly Last Summer," but the film's publicity included a warning that no one would be admitted and no one could leave after the film had started. So we went across 14th Street to a nasty thing called "Private Property." (I later found out that "Private Property" was on the Catholic Index of forbidden films. I never reported anything about that night.)
Election night was endless, as Kennedy stalled a few critical votes short of victory, and it was well into Wednesday before his election was official. When Tony and I at last got back to the Yachtsman Motel in Hyannis Port, there was an invitation for supper that night with Jack and Jackie at the Kennedys' house in the Kennedy compound. We arrived early, Tony eight months pregnant, and were greeted by Jackie in the same condition. Kennedy came downstairs a few minutes later, smiled and said, "Okay, girls. We won. You can take the pillows out now."
The experience of having a friend run for president of the United States is unexpected, fascinating, and exciting for anyone. For a newspaperman it is all that, plus confusing: are you a friend, or are you a reporter? You have to redefine "friend" and redefine "reporter" over and over again, before reaching any kind of comfort level. And that takes time before you get it right. If the friend is actually elected president, it gets worse before it gets better.
The Inauguration festivities were marked by five Inaugural Balls for the first time. History now will have us believe that once--or twice-- Kennedy slipped away from an after-the-balls party hosted by columnist and friend Joe Alsop, ever so briefly with actress Angie Dickinson for God knows what reason. We never saw them that night, but I can believe it now more easily than I can understand it. I can see how it is physically possible, but the taste for risk and the belittling of women involved boggle the mind.
It is now accepted history that Kennedy jumped casually from bed to bed with a wide variety of women. It was not accepted history then, during the five years that I knew him. Like everyone else, we had heard reports of presidential infidelity, but we were always able to say we knew of no evidence, none. We were quick to say the obvious: that the Bradlees saw the Kennedys almost always as a foursome, and under those conditions, Kennedy's extracurricular carrying-on did not come up as a point of discussion.
Of course, I had heard reports of girlfriends. Everyone had. Jackie once told us that she had asked Dr. Janet Travell, the back wizard, to give Kennedy a shot that would take away his frequent pain. The doctor had said there was such a shot, but it would remove all feeling below the waist. "We can't have that, can we, Jacqueline?" the president had decided. Kennedy once looked over the guests dancing at a White House party and said to me, "If only we could run wild, Benjy." Another time he said, "They're always trying to tie me to some story about a girl, but they can't-there are none." And another time he referred to Mary Meyer, Tony's sister and the wife of CIA official Cord Meyer, as "someone who would be hard to live with." But it never occurred to me that these might be scraps of evidence of adultery. Maybe it was a simpler time, a naive time, but full field investigations required more evidence.
My friends have always had trouble believing my innocence of his activities, especially after it was revealed that Mary Meyer had been one of Kennedy's girlfriends. So be it. I can only repeat my ignorance of Kennedy's sex life, and state that I am appalled by the details that have emerged, by the recklessness, by the subterfuge.
Mary Meyer was killed in the bright sunlight of a beautiful early October afternoon in 1964. She was walking along the towpath by the canal along the Potomac River in Georgetown when she was grabbed from behind, wrestled to the ground, and shot just once under her cheekbone. Two telephone calls that night from overseas added new dimensions to Mary's death. The first came from President Kennedy's press secretary, Pierre Salinger, in Paris; we hadn't known that Pierre had been a friend of Mary's. The second was from Anne Truitt, an artist/sculptor living in Tokyo, perhaps Mary's closest friend, and after she and Tony had grieved together, she told us that Mary had asked her to take possession of a private diary "if anything ever happened to me." We didn't start looking until the next morning, when Tony and I walked the few blocks to Mary's house. It was locked, as we had expected, but when we got inside, we found Jim Angleton, and to our complete surprise he told us he, too, was looking for Mary's diary.
Now, James Jesus Angleton was a lot of things, including an extremely controversial, high-ranking CIA official specializing in counterintelligence, but he was also a friend of ours, and the husband of Mary Meyer's close friend, Cicely Angleton. We asked him how he'd gotten into the house, and he shuffled his feet. (Later, we learned that Jim was known inside the agency as "The Locksmith," a man who could pick his way into any house in town.) We felt his presence was odd, to say the least, but with him we searched Mary's house without success.
Later that day, we realized that we hadn't looked for the diary in Mary's studio, which was directly across a dead-end driveway from the garden behind our house. We had no key, but I got a few tools to remove the simple padlock, and we walked toward the studio, only to run into Jim Angleton again, this time actually picking the padlock. He would have been red-faced, if his face could have gotten red, and he left almost without a word. Tony found it an hour later.
Much has been written about this diary-most of it wrong--since its existence was first reported. Tony took it to our house, and we read it later that night. It was small (about 6" x 8")--with fifty to sixty pages. On a few pages, maybe ten in all, in the same handwriting but different pen, phrases described a love affair, and after reading only a few phrases it was clear that the lover had been the president of the United States, though his name was never mentioned. Years later, the National Enquirer reported that Mary and Jack had met twenty to thirty times in the White House during their romance from January 1962 to November 1963; that they had smoked grass (three joints) on one occasion; and that Mary had kept a diary of the affair.
To say we were stunned doesn't begin to describe our reactions in 1964. Tony, especially, felt betrayed, both by Kennedy and by Mary. She knew Jack liked her. Jackie had once said in our presence, "Jack, you always say Tony is your ideal woman." She liked Kennedy back, but had never done anything to encourage more than friendship. Kennedy had obviously sought more than friendship with Mary, and had found it with her encouragement.
And so I was truly appalled by the realization of the extent of the deceit involved. I remembered, for instance, Kennedy greeting Tony often by asking, "How's your sister?"-- presumably including those occasions when he had just left her arms.
There is no comfortable way to cope with these incredible discoveries involving so many friends, even when most of the principals have died. We were left to work out how the news had changed our opinions of President Kennedy and Mary Meyer. The answer for me was: not all that much. They were attractive, intelligent, and interesting people before their paths crossed in this explosive way, and they remain that way in my mind. There was a boldness in pulling something like that off that I found fascinating, and there was the realization that I had been fooled, misled. I resented the deception by Mary and Jack, but with both of them gone from my Fife, resentment seemed selfish.
Before we could sort it all out, we had to decide what to do with the diary, and we both concluded that this was in no sense a public document, despite the braying of the knee-jerks about some public fight to know. I felt it was a family document, privately created by Mary, privately protected by her thorough instructions to Anne Tmitt, which should be followed. Those instructions called for its destruction. The next day, Tony gave the diary to Angleton, because he promised to destroy it in whatever facilities the CIA had. It was naive of us, but we figured they were state of the art.
It is important to say that I never for a minute considered reporting that it had been learned that the slain president had in fact had a lover who had herself been murdered. (Never mind that the CIA's most controversial counterintelligence specialist had been caught breaking and entering, and looking for her diary.) Mary Meyer's murder was news, not her past love affair, I thought then, and part of me would like to think so now. The old-fashioned part, pre-prurience, pre-celebrification, pre-"Hard Copy."
On Sunday, February 22, 1976, the Post's Howard Simons reached me--now the paper's executive editor, a job I got in 1968-in the Virgin Islands, where I was on vacation, and told me about the Enquirer story. I knew it was a story, now. Even stories consigned to silence for whatever reason, venal, compassionate, or otherwise, are public property as soon as that silence is broken. For the record, I shut up. Off the record, I gave reporter Don Oberdorfer as much guidance as I could.
And even some of that was wrong: at the time I thought the diary had been destroyed. But it turned out that Angleton did not destroy the document, for whatever perverse, or perverted, reasons. We didn't learn this until some years later, when Tony asked him point-blank how he had destroyed it. When he admitted he had not destroyed it, she demanded that he give it back, and when he did, she burned it, with a friend as witness. None of us has any idea what Angleton did with the diary while it was in his possession, or why he failed to follow Mary and Tony's instructions.
No story in this endless public-or-private debate gave me more difficulty than Gary Hart's extracurricular activities during the 1988 campaign for president.
For almost two hundred years the sex lives of politicians--especially presidents and presidential candidates--were left to the historians. However, the old rules had changed, and the new rules guaranteed scrutiny by the press if they got wind of any ongoing extracurricular sexual escapades.
On May 3, 1987, under a comparatively innocuous headline in the Miami Herald, "Miami Woman Linked to Hart," Miss Donna Rice began her fifteen minutes of fame as Hart's girlfriend, first with news of an overnight stay in Hart's Capitol Hill house, and later with reports of a two-day trip with Hart to Bimini, on the felicitously named motor yacht "Monkey Business."
That same day, Tom Edsall, one of the best political reporters going, was given a picture of Gary Hart leaving the house of an attractive woman--not married--whose name had been linked with his for a long time. The picture had been taken in December 1986, by a private detective working for a former senator who suspected his wife of having an affair with Hart.
The someone was a reasonably well-known woman in Washington, a former Capitol Hill staffer-turned-lobbyist. I knew her casually, and volunteered to find out whether her rumored romance with Hart had ever been a fact, and whether it was then a fact. The answer was yes. The woman had told friends she expected Hart to divorce his wife and marry her. Or so she said.
What did the presidential candidate already flailing away at the Donna Rice fires have to say? To answer that question we called on Patti Taylor, who was coveting Hart in New Hampshire. Taylor himself had just been in the news, after asking Hart point-blank at a press conference: "Have you ever committed adultery?" Instead of telling Taylor it was none of his damn business, Hart had said he thought adultery was immoral.
Now Taylor told Hart's press secretary, Kevin Sweeney, about the picture we had, the private detective's report, and the confirmation I had received of the relationship. Sweeney paled, and asked for time. He eventually woke Hart to tell him. "Is it a story?" Hart had asked. "Yes," Sweeney had replied. And finally, Hart concluded, "This thing is never going to end, is it? Look, let's go home."
Hart's withdrawal was all over page one for days, but we never ran a story about the private detective's report, and never identified the other woman, though they had specifically triggered the withdrawal. Our reasoning: since Hart was no longer a candidate, his private life was his own business again. And since the woman was not in public life, her private life was her own business.
Was Hart a victim of a prurient press, or a victim of his own excesses? Had the rules changed, and if so, who changed them? How come Hart was the object of such press scrutiny, when LBJ, and especially Jack Kennedy, had escaped that scrutiny?
Yes, the rules had changed, without any formal agreement within the press, and without any formal notification to the candidates. Certainly, the sexual revolution that started in the early sixties had changed American society permanently by the eighties. It was increasingly normal to be interested in our own sexual proclivities, and especially the sexual proclivities of the burgeoning world of celebrities. The supermarket tabloids, with their voracious appetite for the sensational- true or not- had been joined by tabloid television with its equally voracious appetite. And the press had been accused of coveting up Kennedy's fooling around, increasingly well documented since his death. They had silently decided they were never going to be accused of covering up the fooling around of any subsequent candidate.
I have given a lot of thought to whether Kennedy would have survived these rules, and I have concluded that he could not. If the public had learned-no matter how-that the president shared a girlfriend, in the biblical sense, with a top gangster, and Lord knows who else, I am convinced he would have been impeached.
From "A Good Life," (C) 1995 by Benjamin C. Bradlee. To be published by Simon & Schuster, Inc.
PHOTO (COLOR): Washington monument: Ben Bradlee
PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): 'Fixed in history': Mitchell said, 'Katie Graham's going to get her tit caught' over Watergate; but we kept it on the national agenda
When I first met Jackie, I had no idea how much she disliked politics and the press. Both made her feel uncomfortable, invaded. Both robbed her of the privacy and control she cherished. And yet she had chosen a husband who lived for politics, and who thrived on friendship and the give and take with journalists.
Our friendship was brief, varying from conversations to drinks to meals in the White House, and weekends together in Hyannis Port, Palm Beach, Newport, and Camp David. But in all the time I was close to them, I felt Jackie never quite forgave me for trying to be a journalist and a friend at the same time.
Sometimes, in the middle of a conversation among the four of us, I would feel a sidelong glance from Jackie, signaling that she felt some bit of information should remain private. Sometimes she would actually say so. In the weeks after Kennedy was assassinated, Tony and I spent a couple of emotional weekends with Jackie, trying with no success to talk about something else, or someone else. Only four weeks after the assassination, after the last of these weekends, we received this sad note from the president's widow: "Dear Tony and Ben: Something that you said in the country stunned me so--that you hoped ! would marry again. You were close to us so many times. There is one thing that you must know. I consider that my life is over and I will spend the rest of it waiting for it really to be over. With my love, Jackie."
She didn't like "Conversations with Kennedy," my 1975 book based on 125 talks with Kennedy on which I made extensive notes. "It tells more about you than it does about the President," she said. And she didn't like the bad language. She said she thought her children would be offended. Her criticism had hurt and baffled me. The critics would find the book interesting, but too admiring of Kennedy, not critical enough.
I saw Jackie twice after that conversation. Once, Sally and I were arriving at a party hosted by Arthur Schlesinger during the Democratic Convention in New York in 1976, just as she was leaving. I stuck out my hand, and said, "Hi, Jackie." She sailed by us without a word. Sometime later, Jackie and her two children had the cabana next to us at La Samanna in St. Maarten. For a week we seemed to be staring at each other on the beach, but never ran into each other until one night, when we almost collided as we left our cabana to go up to the restaurant for dinner. From 12 inches away, she looked straight ahead, without a word, and I never saw her again.
PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): In Camelot: Ben and Jackie, Tony and Jack were neighbors who became fast friends during Washington's most glamorous era
Sometime during Watergate-- it could have started a few months before or after the break-in-- I started getting anonymous notes, maybe five or six in all, written in pencil on scrap paper, The handwriting was almost illegible, but no matter how much I tried to come up with another description, they were plainly flirtatious-short, cryptic messages suggesting a crush that was getting harder and harder to handle, not to say out of control. They were reserved, proper in every way--and rattling.
My fantasy life is healthy and vivid about persons of the opposite sex, but I wasn't ready to admit that this was a fantasy that might develop into something else. And so I pretty much put them out of my mind a few days after receiving them.
But not before I spent some private time going through an alphabetized staff list for possible authors. Like Walter Mitty before me, I lingered occasionally here and there, wondering. The names are no longer important. Enough to say that when I got to the Qs, I lingered over the name of the enchanting and talented Sally Quinn, the new star of the Style Section, with whom I now realized I had been flirting. But she was too young, and the latest rumor had her quitting us to become the first woman anchor on the CBS Morning News. Plus, Sally insisted on calling me "Mr. Bradlee," and did until the day she quit the Post for CBS in June 1973.
As hard as I worked to attract talented people to the Post I hated to see any of them leave, and so I asked her if I could try to dissuade her at lunch. She agreed, still calling me "Mr. Bradlee." It was a difficult lunch for both of us. Before I could even begin my spiel, she asked me if I knew why she was leaving . . . she was the author of the anonymous notes and she was in love with me.
Sally Quinn electrified my private life the minute she stopped calling me "Mr. Bradlee." She brought a sense of excitement and a sense of humor with her, plus a refreshing, feisty conviction that life should be contested and enjoyed, as well as shared. She found the all-consuming nature of my involvement with the Post natural, even exhilarating.
As my profile inched upward, the gossip magazines became inordinately interested in our relationship. Once, confronted for the umpteenth time by some goddamn reporter, I said I would marry Sally when they elected a Polish pope, which of course could never happen. Five years later, the Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was elected pope on October 16, 1978, the first non-Italian pope in 456 years.
And true to my word, Sally and I were married four days later.
John Mitchell, Nixon's campaign manager, weighed in early With his criticism of our Watergate coverage m a uniquely vulgar, sexist and now-famous way. "All that trap you're putting in the paper. It's all been denied. Katie Graham's going to get her tit caught in a big fat wringer . . ."
Months later an admiring orthodontist made a small, intricate model of a clothes wringer and sent it to Katharine Graham as a present. She wore it on a chain around her neck for a few days. When columnist Art Buchwald saw it, he persuaded a local jeweler to make a small, solid silver breast to scale, and sent it to Kay as his present. She wore both around her neck in the office for a few days, until we persuaded her to put them away, lest her new jewelry make the tabloids.
What exactly was the role of The Washington Post? I have spent many hours trying to penetrate all the truths and the mythology created by the great, new American urge to celebrate the men and women involved in the news, and come up with the answer to that question.
The energy of The Washington Post and particularly the skill and persistence of Woodward and Bernstein fixed Watergate forever in history. Together, we kept it on the national agenda. And there the arrogance and immorality of the men around Richard Nixon were slowly illuminated-first by the Post, and later by many other individuals and institutions.
But Woodward and Bernstein had done the heavy lifting. And, of course, Woodward had "Deep Throat," whose identity has been hands-down the best-kept secret in the history of Washington journalism.
The quality of Deep Throat's information was such that I had accepted Woodward's desire to identify him to me only by job, experience, access, and expertise. That amazes me now, given the high stakes. I don't see how I settled for that, and I would not settle for that now. But the information and the guidance he was giving Woodward were never wrong, never. And it was only after Nixon's resignation, and after Woodward and Bernstein's second book, "The Final Days," that I felt the need for Deep Throat's name. I got it one spring day during lunch break on a bench in MacPherson Square. I have never told a soul, not even Katharine Graham, or Don Graham, who succeeded his mother as publisher in 1979. They have never asked me. Some Doubting Thomases have pointed out that I only knew who Woodward told me Deep Throat was. To be sure. But that was good enough for me then. And now.
Even while Woodward and Bernstein were still creating their legacy, new reporters coming on stream were plainly looking for the same kind of stardom, using what they thought was the same kind of brash persistence they'd seen in the movie. Some of my colleagues in the business started making speeches about the need to rein in the young hotheads before they got newspapers into trouble. I think now we worried too much about the trouble and not enough about the newspapering.
However, it was neither the influx of hungry young journalists eager for notoriety nor the notoriety itself that made journalism forever different after Watergate. Journalism was forever changed by the assumption-by most journalists-that after Watergate government officials generally and instinctively lied when confronted by embarrassing events. "Look for the lies" replaced "Look for the woman" or "Follow the money" as the new shibboleth of journalism.