Ed Bradley, a TV Journalism Favorite, Dies

Michele Norris talks with CBS News Correspondent emeritus Mike Wallace, about his longtime 60 Minutes colleague Ed Bradley. Bradley reported for 60 minutes for 26 years. He died Thursday of leukemia at 65.

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(Soundbite of show, “60 Minutes”)

Mr. ED BRADLEY (CBS News): I'm Ed Bradley.

Mr. STEVE KROFT (CBS News): I'm Steve Kroft.

Ms. LESLIE STAHL (CBS News): I'm Leslie Stahl.

Mr. MORLEY SAFER (CBS News): I'm Morley Safer.

Mr. SCOTT PELLEY (CBS News): I'm Scott Pelley. Those stories and Andy Rooney tonight, on 60 Minutes.

(Soundbite of ticking clock)

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Ed Bradley, the 60 Minutes correspondent and one of the most visible black journalists in America, has died. He was 65.

Bradley joined CBS News in 1971 as a stringer in Paris. He spent a couple years in the network's Saigon bureau, in 1975 covered the fall of Cambodia and Vietnam. His career at 60 Minutes spanned a quarter century. Over the years he was awarded 19 Emmys for stories like his interview with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVey, his hour on sex abuse in the Catholic Church and his report on the reopening of the Emmett Till murder case.

Mr. BRADLEY: I have some questions I'd like to ask her about Emmett Till. Will she come out and talk to us?

Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible)

Mr. BRADLEY: Tell me again.

Unidentified Man: Won't.

Mr. BRADLEY: She won't?

Unidentified Man: No. Goodbye.

Mr. BRADLEY: Goodbye?

Unidentified Man: I said goodbye.

Mr. BRADLEY: Goodbye.

Unidentified Man: Yes, sir.

Mr. BRADLEY: You leaving?

Unidentified Man: No, you are.

NORRIS: Outside of journalism Ed Bradley's passion was jazz. He hosted the public radio program Jazz at Lincoln Center.

(Soundbite of program, “Jazz from Lincoln Center”)

Mr. BRADLEY: Vanessa Rubin and Kevin Mahogany are Singers over Manhattan on this edition of Jazz from Lincoln Center. I'm Ed Bradley.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: And for a generation of black journalists, Bradley was a trail blazer. He was exceedingly private yet he would occasionally make unsolicited calls of encouragement to young black journalists getting started in network news. Hang in there, he'd say. This business needs you.

Today Ed Bradley's colleague, CBS News correspondent Mike Wallace, told me that Bradley's easy manner served him well professionally.

Mr. MIKE WALLACE (CBS News): Ed was comfortable in his own skin and he made people around him comfortable. Look, I was the tough guy who asked all kinds of abrasive and confrontational questions. Ed could do the same damn thing just as effectively, but he didn't come across as a tough guy. He did his homework. He was thoughtful. But somehow the people that he talked with were comfortable talking with him. That was not always necessarily the case with me.

NORRIS: Is there a particular Ed Bradley piece that really captures what he stood for in journalism?

Mr. WALLACE: No, there's no typical Ed Bradley, because he was so versatile. He could do investigations. He could do profiles. He was very good on the air just ad-libbing in political situations, on election nights and things of that nature. He could do it all and he could do it all effectively, and you believed that he knew exactly what he was saying. He could do it all. He really could.

NORRIS: You often heard him laugh in his pieces. He was quite obviously having a good time. I'm thinking of the -

Mr. WALLACE: Oh, yes. No, he did have a good time. He really did. I remember so well when he interviewed Mohammed Ali. He was under the impression that Ali was sicker and less alert than he thought, and so when Bradley asked him some questions at which Mohammed Ali took, it was phony, but he took offense ostensibly, when Bradley understood that he was being put on by Ali, he enjoyed every bit as much as the champion did.

NORRIS: It's a wonderful shot. He played possum with him.

Mr. WALLACE: Yes. That's exactly what he did. He played possum with him.

NORRIS: I heard that despite Ed Bradley's stature, despite the fact that he's so well known, that at the end of the day, when he went down on the street in New York City, tried to hail a cab, he couldn't find one. You would sometimes help him out?

Mr. WALLACE: Well, occasionally. Occasionally that was true, because he was black. There was a time when some cab drivers were not anxious to pick up black fares because they figured they'd be taking them to conceivably dangerous territory. But that's not been true for a long, long time and after awhile in any case, Ed was making so much money that he could call a private car to come and pick him up.

NORRIS: Ed Bradley was the first television reporter of great national stature to wear an earring on the air. Did he take any guff about that when he first did that?

Mr. WALLACE: There was considerable talk in the shop when he showed up wearing the earring. I couldn't believe it, but then I'm an old fashioned person who is a quarter century older than Ed. He was able to bring it off and, of course, little by little I think people began to wear the earring because Bradley was wearing the earring.

NORRIS: He had a high cool quotient?

Mr. WALLACE: Yes, he did. Yes, he did.

NORRIS: Mike Wallace, thanks so much for your time. All the best to you and our condolences on the loss of your colleague and your friend. Thanks so much.

Mr. WALLACE: Thanks a lot.

NORRIS: That's Mike Wallace of CBS News remembering 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley. Bradley died today of complications from leukemia. He was 65.

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Ed Bradley on the State of Journalism

Ed Bradley interviews an HIV patient in Zimbabwe, April 28, 2000. i i

hide captionEd Bradley interviews an HIV patient in Zimbabwe, April 28, 2000.

Louise Gubb/CORBIS SABA
Ed Bradley interviews an HIV patient in Zimbabwe, April 28, 2000.

Ed Bradley interviews an HIV patient in Zimbabwe, April 28, 2000.

Louise Gubb/CORBIS SABA

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...

CONAN: Yeah.

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.

BRADLEY: Neal, thank you for having me.

'60 Minutes' Reporter Ed Bradley Dies

Veteran journalist Ed Bradley

hide captionVeteran journalist Ed Bradley, pictured here in 2000, was a war correspondent in Vietnam and earned 19 Emmy Awards during his long career at CBS.

Louise Gubb/Corbis

Remembrances on NPR

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."

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