Ben Bradlee in Dick
by DCDave

One of my favorite Hollywood villains is veteran character actor, G. D. Spradlin. You might remember him as the rotten basketball coach in One on One or the military college commandant protecting a homicidal secret society in Lords of Discipline. When someone is needed who just oozes shallow, sanctimonious, corrupt authority, now that Fred Thompson has gone back to Washington to play himself, the chances are better than even that the call will go out to Spradlin.

It was with considerable anticipation and excitement, then, that I saw his name go up in the opening credits in the new Watergate spoof called Dick. My guess was that he had to be playing Attorney General John Mitchell. I really didn't think he would be on the side conventionally portrayed as the "good guys," but there he was as the boss of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Washington Post editor, Ben Bradlee. It's true that the lampoon didn't portray anyone on the Post team as exactly an appealing character, but they still stood cinematically, as we have been given to believe in real life, for truth and justice against official criminality.

One would like to believe that the producers of Dick are really clued in to political reality instead of to the fiction that has been spun out by our presstitutes, and the Spradlin casting was actually a hidden message to that effect. For all indications are that Ben Bradlee is the archetypical character that Spradlin usually portrays. The introduction to the third edition of Deborah Davis' book Katharine the Great is entitled "How This Book Was Censored." Here is an excerpt:

In researching the context of Katharine Graham's power, I found that both her late husband Philip, from whom she inherited the newspaper in 1963, and Benjamin Bradlee, whom she hired as executive editor in 1965, had been part of a group of men who worked with strategic information during the Second World War. These men had gone on to use their skills in propaganda or intelligence to create and reinforce peacetime definitions of patriotism. Their careers in this way coincided with the formation of the modern news industry; and it was not simply their access to the instruments of mass communication, but also their style of political thinking, their identification with the values of the state, which gave them and others of their background a disproportionate influence on American political culture. The relation of such careers to Katharine Graham's ability to destroy Richard Nixon is discussed in the book in detail.

Benjamin Bradlee as a young journalist was at the very heart of the government's effort to order political thinking after the war. He spent forty wartime months handling classified cables and codes on a naval destroyer, then three years at the Washington Post in the late 1940's under Philip Graham, who as a "liberal anti-Communist" supported the search for traitors in government. In 1951, Bradlee went, with Graham's assistance, to the American Embassy in Paris, where as a press attache he became part of a covert operation integral to America's foreign policy: the production of propaganda against Communism. One purpose of the operation was to cast doubt on the patriotism of western European Communists, many of whom had fought in the resistance and were therefore trusted figures in post-war politics. They were discredited as instruments of Stalin. The propaganda was disseminated throughout Europe by the CIA, mainly in the form of newspaper stories appearing under the bylines of pro-American foreign journalists.

In the original edition of this book, Bradlee was described as a State Department appointee who, while at the embassy, produced CIA material occasionally, before returning permanently to journalism. Those few lines, and other references to his past, Bradlee denied vehemently. Rather than join the company of other prominent journalists who now freely say they worked with the CIA in the 1950s because times were different then, it was the patriotic thing to do, Bradlee set about to discredit the book, and ruin me as a writer, by having friends produce negative press stories.

We might add, for what it is worth, that the subordinate he married in 1978 (for whom he left his wife of long standing), the blond and much younger Sally Quinn, is the daughter of one of the founders of the CIA, General William Quinn.

David Martin
August 8, 1999

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