But embedded in Yours in Truth there are fundamental insights about journalism and the role of a dynamic press. In March 1968, Ben chose, over the objections of his publisher and proprietor, Katharine Graham, to run the text of an embargoed copy of the Kerner Commission report on race in America only a few days before its official release. On the day the text appeared, Bradlee wrote a memo to Mrs. Graham that is as good a summary of his approach to news as anything else that followed over the years:
Katharine. . . . Our duty is to publish news when it is news and that means when we learn and when we have checked its bona fides and when we have secured the information legally and when we have checked for libel and when we have assured ourselves that publishing is not against the national or public interest. . . . A newspaper that yields to any one of these pressures takes a sure step -- perceptible however small -- out of the newspaper business . . . each such step yields the independence we all cherish to someone else. Often, in this town to a President or his representatives . . . a newspaper that yields to any one of these pressures sacrifices one of (its) most precious assets -- the vitality and commitment and possibly the respect of its reporters.
Now comes full disclosure: I worked for Bradlee at the Washington Post for eighteen years and every book published by PublicAffairs, the company I founded in 1997, carries a tribute to him that says "he supported his reporters with a tenacity that made them fearless." PublicAffairs also published Himmelman's collaboration with Quinn Bradlee, Ben's son, on his memoir, A Different Life. In the acknowledgements of Yours in Truth, Himmelman calls me a friend and "a sounding board." I talked to him about the book, but had nothing to do with how it was written or edited.
There are substantial parts of the book that recount dramatic episodes in Bradlee's tenure as editor, which ended in 1991. Most of these stories have been told before, including in Ben's entertaining memoir, A Good Life, and Katharine Graham's Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography, Personal History. Ben instructed Himmelman to write about everything he learned in his reporting, and he did so, which means there are expressions of Bradlee's candor as events unfold and private asides about family matters that have made the principals in the saga furious.
But for all the elements of the book that have landed with a thud, it does underscore what it was about Bradlee's leadership and professional courage that made an indelible impression on journalism. Ben was never considered an introspective person or an ideological one. Yet his convictions about the role of the press run very deep. In a 1974 speech to the Dirks Newspaper Financial Forum, Bradlee said:
Unique among manufactured products, the newspaper is completely different every 24 hours and it can't be recalled for mistakes of fact or judgment. It is produced in an adversary environment where the goals of the reported inherently conflict with the goals of the reporter and the reader. It is this daily conflict that gives concrete importance and meaning to the First Amendment, to freedom of the press. Without that freedom, there is no conflict, and without that conflict there is no truth.
Ours is an era of 24-hour cable and masses of Internet-driven opinion that too often overwhelm what has actually happened. Bradlee flourished in a time when what counted was the hard news he put into the paper each day and the standards he demanded from his reporters and editors and, for the most part, their intense loyalty to his credo.