Ed Bradley R.I.P.
Frailty was not an adjective I associated with Ed Bradley, a correspondent who had been filing groundbreaking TV news stories from the time I was in elementary school.
From his story tracing new allegations about the murder of black child Emmet Till to his easygoing features of golfer Tiger Woods and jazz legend Miles Davis, Bradley was always an image of quiet strength -- laid-back but on point, with a touch of cool epitomized by the single diamond earring in his left ear.
But as we stood together in June 2005 -- among an amazing group of folks honored by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism for quality coverage of people of color -- Bradley looked thin, a little unsteady and tired. His coronary bypass surgery had been well-publicized in 2003, and I assumed he hadn't yet bounced back.
Then I noticed on his recent, groundbreaking story about the Duke Unveristy rape case, colleague Lesley Stahl introduced the package. That was notable, because full-time correspondents almost always introduce their own stories.
Now comes news that Bradley has died of leukemia, at age 65. Besides his status as a high-profile journalist -- delivering a near-exclusive, attention-getting interview with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh years ago -- Bradley was also widely admired among journalists of color as one of the highest-profile black journalists who seemed to succeed on his own terms.
Weird at it sounds, for me it came down to that earring he always wore - a single diamond stud, perched in his ear while interivewing heads of state, hanging with jazz musicians and competing with the biggest names in TV journalism.
It said to me that this child of Philadelphia's streets found success on his own terms -- no one else's.
"He gave up pride and he gave us hope," Bryan Monroe, president of the National Association of Black Journalists told me earlier today. "He did not have to compromise who he was. He did not have to downplay his Philadelphia upbringing, his street smarts, or his cultured experiences. He could be authentic and still succeed. Especially now, as it becomes harder and harder for black journalists to succeed. Many feel they’ve got to assimilate and compromise who they are. He is the beacon to say be who you are and succeed – you can do both."
Dan Rather, who pulled Bradley into his circle of trusted advisors during election coverage for many years, released a statement: "With the passing of Ed Bradley we have lost one of America's best. As a compassionate, sensitive person, as a gentle but strong man, as a lover of life and a great professional, he was an example of all a conscientious and dedicated journalist can be."
Rene Syler, co-host of the Early Show, remembered how supportive Bradley was when she came to the show from Texas, emailing her occasionally to note when she did a particularly affecting story.
"Not only did I think this was somebody who I wanted to emulate as a journalist -- he’s cool, too!" she said, laughing. "The thing about Ed was that it was an effortless cool. You got the sense that he wore the earring because he liked it and he was that comfortable with who he was. There’s a lesson in that...Forget about the TV cameras and lights and this and that – when he sat down across from you it was you and Ed. And I think that was the key to his success."
Here's CBS' initial obiturary:
"Ed Bradley, one of journalism’s brightest stars whose name was synonymous with the CBS News magazine 60 MINUTES on which he reported for the past 25 years, died a few hours ago in Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. He was 65 and had leukemia.
Bradley spent nearly his entire 43-year career with CBS News, where he rose to the pinnacle of journalistic achievement, at first on network documentaries and the CBS EVENING NEWS and then 60 MINUTES, where he solidified a body of work that featured a keen talent for the interview and an intense curiosity shown in his investigative work. In one of his last 60 MINUTES segments, an investigation of the Duke University Lacrosse rape case, he broke new ground with the first interviews with the accused in a story that made headlines last month."
I'll have a fuller column on Bradley and his importance in tomorrow's paper. A giant truly has left us.
UPDATE: Here's some more thoughts on Ed Bradley that didn't make my story for tomorrow...
Terry Martin, a former story editor at "60 Minutes II" who now teaches in the School of Communications at Quinnipiac University: "If you’d known Ed for a while, you knew what a fitness nut he was -– he really took very good care of himself...No matter here he was, he always insisted on a getting a temporary pass to a gym so he could keep gdoing his workouts – or he would get a stairmaster put in his room.”
Martin on Bradley's biggest story: "His biggest legacy, which will always be uniquely his, is the plight of the boat people. After the war was over, all of a sudden we began hearing stories about these Vietnamese refugees trying to do anything to get away from the North Vietnamese. They ended up in the Philippinnes and were ignored by the government. It was Ed who found these refugees who were starving to death and he did a whole CBS Reports documentaryon them. He’s the one who brought the plight of those people to the United States. And 25 years later, they have made quite a successful mark on the U.S.”
Martin on Bradley's roots: "Ed was like Bill Cosby...a Philadelphia boy brought up by a strong mother. He was no-nonsense -- He had no time for people who didn’t put as much effort into whatever they chose to do. And he never wore his pioneering status on his sleeve...It’s the passing of an era – the business has changed. Those guys, Raer, koppel, jenniongs Brokaw, every one of them worked in what is going to be looked back as the golden age of broadcast journalism – when there were three networks and the world was their oyster."
Connie Chung, former CBS anchor: "He was quite the bon vivant. He’s tall, handsome and what an outstanding dresser. Wearing the coolest of the cool clothes...leather andblack before other people werewearing black...We heard lots of stories about his long list of girlfeidns and how they could never, ever catch him. He was a bachelor for a long, long time."
Chung on her early days with Bradley, Lesley Stahl and Bernard Shaw as young minorities and women hire to diversify CBS News: "Ed would be told he was supposed to cover something hat ivolved the first lady and he would tell the assignment editor in no uncertain terms that he was not going. Then, the assignment editor would go down the line and order the rest of us to do it...I really adored ed because...he was not caught up in being a star. Unlike everyone else in the television news business...(he had) this strong, streak of independence that he would not play the network game and do what the suits wanted him to do."