Friday, October 10, 2014

Ben Bradlee, Ace Reporter

Young Ben Bradlee, who would become a legendary American editor
Ben Bradlee’s first journalistic triumph at the Washington Post did not require the diligence of a Watergate reporter.
In 1948, fresh from a destroyer and his first newspaper job on a defunct New Hampshire weekly he had helped found, Bradlee landed an $80-a-week job on the Post starting Christmas Eve. Russ Wiggins, who was to be one of his three great mentors, was editor.
“My first real break came when Russ Wiggins was giving vent to one of his regular tirades against the evil and prevalence of gambling, which he regarded as a sin against common sense, especially among the poor who gambled with grocery money,” Bradlee recalled. “Why not take the new reporter, he asked Gilbert, and sic him on the bookies and numbers kingpins? No one in town knew me yet, Wiggins figured, and I could poke around unnoticed. I had received my first investigative assignment for the paper.
“Not a betting man myself, I knew enough to start looking for the answers in the Sports Department, particularly with my new buddy there, Morris Siegel. Mo was great company, funny, disrespectful and warm. He was the particular favorite of Sara Bassin, who ran the restaurant next to the Post, cashed our paychecks and told us to go home before it was too late.
“When I asked Mo for the names of the 10 biggest bookies in Washington, he grabbed a piece of copy paper and started scribbling some names: Snags, who did numbers, too. Gary, who ran the Atlas Club, an after-hours joint upstairs in the building between Bassin’s and the Post. Mo checked with his pals and made one phone call, and gave me a list with 10 names, plus addresses and phone numbers.
“I didn’t feel I could get back to Russ Wiggins that fast. He had given me the assignment less than half an hour before. So I waited a day, typed the list out on regular Post stationery, and gave it to him two days later.
“Wiggins looked at the list, shook his head in apparent admiration, and told Gilbert, ‘We’ve got a damned good man in this new fellow, Bradlee. I’ve been trying to get that list for years.’”
Source: “A Good Life” by Ben Bradlee

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