Bradlee tilted a room just by being himself

Reading time: Less than 2 minutes

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a glorious handful of metaphors from New York Times writer David Carr…

I came of age during Watergate. The Senate Watergate committee began its nationally televised hearings in 1973 when I was in grade 10 and Richard Nixon resigned on April 22, 1974. I became a journalist myself, not because of the Washington Post reporters who broke the story, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. But they were my heroes. As were their bosses, publisher Katharine Graham and editor Ben Bradlee.

When Bradlee died at the age of 93 last week, I allowed myself a few moments wandering down memory lane. My able tour guide? David Carr of the New York Times, with his diverting and superbly written article, “Ben Bradlee’s charmed, charming life.”

A dab hand with metaphors, Carr displayed many of them in his article. Here are my five favourite ones.

  • In a town notorious for big entrances — Bill Clinton, Marion Barry, Ronald Reagan, you name it — Mr. Bradlee tilted a room just by being himself.
  • He was more Clark Gable than Clark Kent.
  • In 1969, he conjured Style, a hip, cheeky section of the newspaper that reflected the tumult of the times in a city where fashion and discourse were rived with a maddening sameness. The effect on the business was profound, as if Chuck Berry had walked into a Glenn Miller show and started playing guitar.
  • Bradlee could be almost cartoonishly ambitious. Asked by Katharine Graham, The Post’s publisher, about his interest in the top job at the paper, he immediately replied that he would “give my left one” for the opportunity. He probably would have gotten along fine on the remaining testosterone.
  • A player of favorites and an admirer of bravado, he famously vetoed the hiring of a reporter who had already been vetted and all but hired, because “nothing clanks when he walks.”

Bradlee was a big man.  I’m glad he had a fitting send-off from David Carr.

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