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Washington Post Old-Timer Bradlee Speaks at Killian Hall

Eva Moy--The Tech
Benjamin C. Bradlee, former executive editor of The Washington Post, signs copies of his book after his talk in Killian Hall on Monday.

By Eva Moy
Staff Reporter

After 30 years as writer and editor of The Washington Post, Benjamin C. Bradlee has changed medium in writing his memoirs, A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures.

Speaking to a full house in Killian Hall (14W-100)Monday, Bradlee talked about some of his adventures. He also answered questions about more recent events, like the Unabomber manifesto and the information superhighway.

Bradlee "has been an eyewitness to most of the seminal events of the second half of the twentieth century, from Guadalcanal to Japan during World War II, all the way through the end of the Cold War and the political revolution of the 1990s," according to the book jacket.

"He changed his newspaper, and then his newspaper changed America," said Matthew Storin, editor of The Boston Globe, who introduced Bradlee at the beginning of the talk.

Bradlee started the talk with the story of his sister-in-law's affair with President John F. Kennedy. The affair was detailed in her diary, which she had asked to be destroyed upon her death.

Bradlee did not disclose the information himself, but as the news got out, people asked why he did not come forward with the information right away.

This was a question of "How personal do you get, and how far do you invade somebody's privacy?," Bradlee said.

"I'm supposed to be such a killer about publishing," Bradlee said. But he felt that the incident did not affect Kennedy in his public business so he kept the information private.

Bradlee also briefly touched upon other topics about which the audience asked: he would have printed the Unabomber's manifesto had it been his decision; Nixon's ghost does not haunt Washington (except for a few older Republicans); and no one will know the identity of Deep Throat, one of the most important sources for the Watergate series, until he, Deep Throat, dies.

About the information superhighway, Bradlee said: "Everybody else has found it except me." With so many more choices offered by this new technology, he said that it will be the newspaper's job to sort out the information for the reader.

"Minimum of brains" to report

Bradlee jokingly described himself as "lean, hard, interesting," but as an editor, he was a "sprinter." Colleagues often said he was "unsurpassed at 150 words, but at 200 he gets lost."

And what does it take to be a good reporter? "It takes a certain minimum of brains, but it doesn't have to be overpowering," Bradlee said. Energy, persistence, curiosity, an analytical mind, and writing ability are the essential qualities for a good reporter, he said.

Bradlee's stop at MIT was sponsored by Waterstone's Booksellers and the MIT Libraries. The reading series had been moved from the Waterstone's store on Exeter Street because of fire damage last month.

The remainder of the talks this fall are distributed between MIT, the Boston Public Library, and the Great Hall in Faneuil Hall.

Tonight's reading, by Witold Rybczynski, has been cancelled because of the author's illness.