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A date with Ben

Journalists are never impressed by anyone. Journalists don?t ask for autographs when they go for interviews.

india Updated: May 08, 2006 00:24 IST
Rema Nagarajan
Rema Nagarajan

Journalists are never impressed by anyone. Journalists don’t ask for autographs when they go for interviews. These maxims, drilled into me in journalism classes, came back to me as I got ready to meet one of the legends of journalism. I repeated them to myself fervently as I walked to his office from the downtown Washington D.C. metro station. I paused outside the office of the Washington Post on 15th Street to catch my breath.

At the lobby I asked for ‘Mr Ben Bradlee’s office’, expecting the security personnel to be impressed with who I was there to see. Not really. They coolly picked up the phone. I could hardly believe it. Finally, I was going to meet the Ben Bradlee of Watergate fame. The editor who headed the Washington Post during one of the biggest stories in investigative journalism, a story that started off as being about an innocuous burglary at the office of the Democratic National Committee and ended with the resignation of President Nixon.

I was escorted to the seventh floor office of Bradlee. Seated before me was a white-haired genial and affable man. His blue eyes have become watery and faded with age and his face is craggy with lines, but otherwise he was wonderfully fit at 84. Rising from behind his large desk he shook my hand and cordially asked me in his gravelly voice about my work in India, the fellowship that brought me to the US and my internship at the Washington Post. “I hope they have been good to you,” he said.

With great effort I collected my thoughts and started off on the interview that I had been doing in my head ever since I got the appointment. Did it tire him that everyone wanted to ask him about Watergate? No, it didn’t. And anyway, people’s interest in Watergate waxed and waned in phases.

Did he think Watergate was the biggest story of all time? “There have been intrinsically more interesting stories like wars, like the fall of the Soviet Union, the tsunami stories in which more lives were involved. But in terms of investigative stories, this was probably one of the biggest,” he admits.

Does he miss the daily excitement of being part of a newspaper? Not really, but he does miss being part of the action when something big happens like 9/11 or the war in Iraq.

The ultimate coup is a date for lunch with Bradlee in the latter half ofMay. I can’t believe my luck! So which restaurant are we going to?

I have to make reservations in advance. He asks me not to worry about that. Of course, stupid me, I am going with Ben Bradlee. Of course, we will get a table.

All my copies of his memoirs, The Good Life, have been signed and the meeting ends with me taking pictures with him. I just broke all the rules about being an unflappable journalist.

First Published: May 08, 2006 00:24 IST