The Volunteer Who Was at the Epicenter of Contemporary National Events — Ben Bradlee, Jr. (Afghanistan)
A Profile in Citizenship
by Jeremiah Norris (Colombia 1963–65)
BEN BRADLEE, JR.* WAS A copy boy at the Boston Globe during summers before graduating from Colby College in Maine with a major in Political Science. He then served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Afghanistan from 1970 to 1972, where he reported for an English-language newspaper in Kabul.
Returning home, Ben went into a journalistic career which placed him at the center of several national events, beginning by working for several years at the Riverside Press in California. He then spent most of his journalistic career at the Boston Globe. There he was successively State House reporter, investigative reporter, national correspondent, political editor, and metropolitan editor. In 1993, he was promoted to Assistant Managing Editor responsible for investigations and projects. In that role, Ben edited the Globe’s reportage that uncovered the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston’s repeated cover-ups of sexual abuse of children by priests, a painstaking investigation that began in 2001 and continued for two years. The consecutive reports were published under the title: “Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church.” The paper’s investigation was awarded the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. It resulted in the resignation of the Archbishop of Boston. Subsequently, the archdiocese settled over 500 abuse-related claims for $85 million.
In the 2015 film Spotlight, which dramatizes that investigation, Ben is portrayed by John Slattery, while Ben himself makes a cameo appearance as a journalist with a notepad during and after the scene depicting the Archbishop Bernard Law’s response on television to the 9/11 attacks. Spotlight won the Academy Award for Best Picture at the 88th Academy Awards in February 2016.
BEN LEFT THE GLOBE in 2004 to work on a biography of Boston Red Sox icon Ted Williams, which ultimately took ten years of in-depth research to finish. The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams was finally released in 2013. It received favorable reviews, highlighting the author’s research into Williams’ concealed Mexican-American identity and troubled family relationships. The book became a New York Times best-seller.
Of the other books that Ben published, each to positive reviews, two of them are highly relevant in today’s political environment. In the first, Guts and Glory: The Rise and Fall of Oliver North, a New York Times review describes it as an account of the life and career of Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North when serving on the National Security Council. He is a key figure in the Iran-Contra Affair, a scandal that engrossed much of official Washington for nearly a year during the Ronald Reagan presidency, succeeded in mesmerizing tens of millions during televised Congressional hearings. In one of his interviews with Ben, North justified his actions in this manner: “there was little doubt in [my] mind that I considered the highest ideal of serving our country and that as long as I was doing it for our country, it couldn’t be wrong.” Ben concluded that North’s behavior “seriously damaged the President he professed to love . . . and that [Ben’s account] demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that it was the first compressive portrait of Mr. North’s rather bizarre world.”
In the second book, The Forgotten: How the People of One Pennsylvania County Elected Donald Trump and Changed America, published in 2018, Ben’s own newspaper in Boston described it as follows: “These are the folks who gave us Trump and this is Why.” George Will of The Washington Post wrote: “Pennsylvania has long fancied itself as the Keystone State, the piece that holds together the arch of the nation. In 2016 when the nation came apart in disturbing ways, this state’s role was especially revealing. Ben Bradlee Jr’s meticulous reporting illuminates the riveting story of how people who felt forgotten discovered how to get the nation’s attention.” The Washington Post wrote of “How Trump captured working class voters and how the Democrats lost them”.
IN 2016, BEN WAS appointed by Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh to the Boston Public Library’s Board of Trustees. Fittingly, it is the board’s unofficial “writer’s seat” that has been held by Doris Kearns Goodwin, David McCullough, Dennis Lehane and other notable authors. Given Ben’s literary and investigative accomplishments since returning home from Volunteer service in Afghanistan, he most certainly has enhanced Peace Corps’ 3rd Goal and that warrants him a richly deserved Profile in Citizenship.
*Ben’s father is Benjamin Bradlee, a former Executive Editor of The Washington Post, which under his management exposed the Watergate scandal, ultimately resulting in the resignation of the President of the United States. He was often considered the most popular Editor in America. In the movie, All the President’s Men, Mr. Bradlee was portrayed by the popular Hollywood actor Jason Robards.
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Wow. Thank you Marian for posting this. And to you, too, Jerry Norris for researching and writing this Profile in Citizenship. Bradlee’s journalism represents the very best and what, I think, we need so desperately, today.