Meryl Streep just picked up another Academy Award nomination this week, her 89th. Something like that.
This time it’s for her role as Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham in The Post. Tom Hanks, who plays the Post’s editor, Ben Bradlee, was snubbed, as they say.
The story revolves around the newspaper’s publication of the Pentagon papers, classified documents detailing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, embarrassing to the government, to say the least.
I interviewed the real Ben Bradlee for television once. My experience falls under the category of never aspire to meet your heroes. Sometimes that adage applies.
It was 1977, a few years after the Post’s “other” big story, the paper’s coverage of Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal.
We met just before Bradlee spoke at the University of North Dakota, on the eve of a series of lengthy television interviews the former president would do with British television “presenter” David Frost. It was reported that Nixon was being paid $600,000 to sit down with Frost. (That was a lot of money then.) The whole thing was a much-anticipated and highly hyped event. No one knew if David Frost would get the better of “Tricky Dick” or vice versa.
I asked Bradlee what he thought was going to come of the interviews. “He’s not going to get anything out of Nixon. David Frost is an entertainer.” A few days later, I would see nearly the same words of Bradlee’s in print somewhere.
True, David Frost was an entertainer, but he was also a journalist and a skilled interviewer. The Nixon-Frost interviews would become Nixon’s conversation of record on Watergate. “I gave them a sword” would be the closest the disgraced president would ever come to admitting guilt in Watergate.
Part of Bradlee’s reluctance to even acknowledge that Frost would be successful is that it was a different time. Unlike today, when Washington Post writers and reporters regularly appear on cable news outlets like CNN, print and broadcast journalists then barely acknowledged the others’ existence, much less cooperated on bringing information to the public.
Later, to his credit, shortly after the Nixon-Frost interviews aired, Bradlee changed his tune completely, admitting that, indeed, Frost had done a fine job interviewing the former president.
But sorry to say, that night Bradlee was as dismissive of me and my line of questions as he was at first of David Frost.