Legendary CBS journalist Ed Bradley has died of leukemia. The 65-year-old correspondent had been reporting for CBS since 1967, and was a key member of the 60 Minutes reporting team.
Longtime friend and former 60 Minutes producer Don Hewitt hired Bradley to be part of the pioneering news magazine's team for the 1981 season, and he remained a key part of the show's roster of reporters almost to the end of his life.
"He was going in and out of illness" toward the end, Hewitt says. For his last reports for the show, Bradley, normally a fit and athletic person, appeared gaunt and weakened.
Bradley was one of the few African-American journalists in such a high-profile position at the time he was hired to work for 60 Minutes. In a speech Hewitt gave to a racially mixed crowd, introducing Ed Bradley for a journalism award, the producer toyed with the crowd's sensitivities about Bradley's race.
"I said to the crowd: 'I hired Ed Bradley because he's a member of a minority,'" Hewitt says. And after a pause, hearing some in the crowd gasp in surprise, Hewitt went on: "He's a great gentleman and a great reporter. And if that ain't a minority, I don't know one."
Hewitt added that Bradley always came across as being fair-minded and sympathetic to those he spoke with on-camera.
"I don't think anybody came away from an Ed Bradley interview thinking he'd been had," Hewitt said.
And as for the earring in Ed Bradley's left earlobe — an uncommon personal statement for such a high-profile broadcast journalist — Hewitt says it was just part of Bradley's personality.
"That was the rugged individualist side of him," he says. "I think it was sort of a trademark."
On June 2, 2005, Ed Bradley, who died Thursday at 65, participated in a discussion on Talk of the Nation about how the journalism profession is changing. The following transcript offers a portion of that discussion, which was hosted by Neal Conan.
NEAL CONAN: Ed Bradley is a stalwart in the news business, correspondent as well as co-editor of CBS Television's 60 Minutes. He began his career with CBS more than 30 years ago. Ed Bradley joins us now by phone from his office in New York City.
Very nice of you to be with us today.
ED BRADLEY: Well, thank you. It's nice to be here.
CONAN: You've won, I think, every award there is to win in journalism, yet you attended, as I understand, Cheney State College in Pennsylvania and got a degree in education.
BRADLEY: Right. I not only got a degree in education, but taught school for three and a half years.
CONAN: Was that a good apprenticeship for journalism, do you think?
BRADLEY: You know, I don't make any connection between the two, because I think what I learned about journalism I learned in the school of hard knocks. In my first job, I learned how to do this. I never had a course in journalism, so I had to learn it by doing it. And sometimes I think that's the best way to do it.
CONAN: A lot of people who went to the school of hard knocks would agree with you.
BRADLEY: Yeah. I — you know, I think that having the opportunity to go out and cover a story, you learn a lot more about how to do that than sitting in a classroom and having some professor tell you how to cover a story.
CONAN: 'Cause it's real-world experience and you have to come back with a story and hand it to an editor, who is going to take a pencil out and make confetti out of it.
BRADLEY: Right. And then the difference, I think, is — I think it may also be generational, because I think that with my generation and older people, most of us came into this business, at least television and radio, by accident, by starting out in a small station somewhere, rather than by starting in a journalism school. And I would say the same thing is true for a lot of print people. I was reading Bob Woodward's story today in The Washington Post about Deep Throat and found out that Woodward came out of the Navy as a second lieutenant and was thinking about going to law school, and instead started at The Washington Post, and they told him after two weeks, 'You can't do this.' And he went to a small weekly paper in Virginia and learned how to be a reporter. He didn't learn it in school.
CONAN: Yet after all of the experiences that we've seen — you know, the stories that damaged CBS News and The New York Times and other institutions — ethics — where did you learn ethics?
BRADLEY: From my mother (laughs).
CONAN: (Laughs) And that's the toughest school of all.
BRADLEY: You know, I think that you have an internal compass, that you come to the table with that internal compass. And then I think that there is a sense of ethics at the organization where you work, and I think it varies from organization to organization. And I think within an organization, it can change over the years. But when I came to CBS, there was a sense of 'This is how we do this, and we don't do this.' And you learn that not just from doing it, but from observation and watching other people. Because when I first came to CBS, I didn't get on the air very much. When I went to Washington from after Vietnam in 1974, you know, there were 26 reporters and correspondents in Washington, and I was number 26.
CONAN: Who did you watch?
BRADLEY: Oh, you know, I grew up watching, nationally, Walter Cronkite, and as someone who was not just an anchorman but was a reporter. And I loved the documentaries that Walter used to do... and how he put himself in the documentaries, not just asking questions, but sometimes getting involved in how this felt. I remember one piece he did in the early days of the space age in this country where he went through a portion of the training that astronauts do. And you got a sense of, well, hey, this is a guy who's not an astronaut, who's not going to space, and this is how it feels.
I mean, I could get how it felt from my perspective, because I was more like Walter than I was like an astronaut.
CONAN: I wonder — you see the new kids coming in. They've all gone to journalism school and had the internships and the new way of doing things. These days, do you see the necessity to write that unwritten code down, as the journalism dean was telling us before you joined us?
BRADLEY: I think it's imperative. I mean, we have a book that sits on my desk next to my keyboard that's called the CBS News Standards. And it's not something that I read every day, but it's something that, after all of these years of being at CBS, is ingrained in me. But it is something that, when I received my first copy, I read to see what I could do and what I couldn't do. And some things were very small and you would think, 'Well, what's the harm in doing that?' And it was said, 'Well, we just don't do that,' that 'that's staging something.'
I remember someone saying about a door that was revolving in a story that I shot in my early years at 60 Minutes. 'Did you spin that door?' 'Well, no, somebody came out of the door and we were shooting, and we only used the portion of the empty door spinning. Well, you know, it seems sort of nonsensical. Why couldn't you spin a door if you wanted to use that as a shot? But we had someone who said, 'You can't do that.'
CONAN: Let's get a caller on the line, and this is Richard. Richard's calling us from Bishop, Calif.
RICHARD (Caller): Yes, Neal. I really value your program.
CONAN: Thank you.
RICHARD: I wanted to make a general comment.
CONAN: Go ahead.
RICHARD: And that comment was that I think an unfettered press is critical to the survival of a democracy. And currently, I don't think the general press is being very critical of our politicians and our government. And I think maybe the primary ingredient is the mixing of profit and the function of the press, and I just wondered what your speaker thinks about that commingling of profit and unfettered search for information that I think is so critical to a democracy.
CONAN: Richard, thanks very much for the question.
Ed Bradley, 60 Minutes is one of the most important journalistic outlets in the country. It's also one of CBS Television's most profitable.
BRADLEY: And I think that there is a delicate balance between the two, and I think that there is a line that we try not to cross and, at the same time, try to remain still a viable, popular and thus profitable broadcast, because if you're not, you're not going to be on the air, as evidenced by what happened to 60 Minutes Wednesday...
BRADLEY: ...which finished near the bottom of the ratings and was killed by CBS, won't be on the air next year. There were some good reporters over there who did some good work. They did have problems, with one piece in particular, but in my sense that's not enough to kill the broadcast. But when the ratings are bad and the network is looking to squeeze every dime they can out of the bottom line, that's what you face. I think that what we have to realize is that the news business today is not what it was 25, 35, 40 years ago.
I think when William Paley started this company and for the years when CBS ruled the roost, his attitude was that he made money from "I Love Lucy" and the other programs he had on in prime time, and that the news division was his gift to the American people. It was a public service, not something that he expected to make money on. And I think that radically changed with the advent of 60 Minutes, because 60 Minutes became wildly popular, reached number one in the '70s, the '80s and the '90s, the first broadcast to do that... still finishes in the top 20, far ahead of any other news program, and still makes money for this company, so that you have a corporate shift in that you don't have someone who sits there, as Mr. Paley did, and say, 'I'm not interested in making money from this news division.' The news division today is like any other division: It's expected to earn its way. And that does bring pressure to bear on the people who run the division.
CONAN: Ed Bradley, thank you so much for joining us. We know you're busy. We appreciate your time today.