In the midst of yet another dull government hearing last winter, CBS correspondent Ed Bradley was called to the telephone and told he was being reassigned to one of the Democratic pack running for President - a fellow named Jimmy Carter.
"I was on Constitution avenue. I could hardly get into the phone booth because I had a big bag slung over my shoulder. But I was so happy I danced in the street. I knew Jimmy Carter would win. The people liked him," Bradley recalled much later, the excitement still crackling in his deep voice.
Bradley joined the Carter campaign during the Florida primary and shared both the high and low moments until the wee hours of victory in Atlanta.
Each in his own way came through as winners. Bradley ended up as one of CBS' three regulars at the prestigious White House beat. Like it or not he's a racial symbol. And, because he knew the President when he was simply "Jimmy Who?" he agonizes with friends over whether the flattery and friendships will compromise his judgment as a newsman.
Once, after Carter had finished a campaign speech, the overanxious police of Elyria, Ohio, disconnected Bradley's telephone line and told him to move along. When he didn't move fast enough, they shoved show into a side room. When Carter saw two policemen pinning Bradley to a wall, he moved toward him and, for a minute, looked like he was ready to join the fray. But both Carter and Bradley were restrained by Secret Service men.
Though Bradley was indebted to Carter for possibly saving him from a bad roughing up, it didn't compromise his independence. After a huge rally in New York, Bradley told the audience of the "CBS Evening News" that the event was traditionally organized by labor groups for the Democratic candidate, so Carter's charisma alone didn't account for the crowds, and that some foul-ups had occurred within the Carter staff. The next day Carter told Bradley the story was "crummy."
Today, Bradley is recognized where it counts. At last week's televised press conference, Carter recognized the newsman with the words, "I promised Ed Bradley." Also Bradley has joined the select fraternity of network anchormen with his sixth-day assignment on the "CBS Sunday Night News." That 15-minute slot distinguishes Bradley as the only black anchorman on a network, a job that gives him the cachet of symbolism, something he doesn't want but can't escape.
Within the industry Bradley, who is 35, is considered one of the best of the new breed, a news personality who combines topnotch reporting skills with an authorative presence.
But don't tell Ed Bradley that he's a symbol. he actually recoils at the notion - so much so that his close friends, like another Philly-reared newsman, Jim Vance of WRC-4, don't hash over with Bradley the implications of his rise.
Says Vance, "Bradley is so damn visible, so vulnerable out there that I don't talk about the racial responsibilities of the job. My opinion is that he should be the best he can without the diversion of assuming the weight of a role model. I would just like to see him book, be the best he can."
But, sooner or later, the role-model tag becomes part of the ascendency story. And Bradley, who acknowledges how dismal were early black images on television, is not running away from racial identity.
Seven years ago he joined other black newsmen in support of reporter Earl Caldwell's refusal to give his notes on the Black Panther Party to the Justice Department. Now, when Bradley has a paid speaking engagement for CBS, he makes a point to rap with a high school audience in the same city.
Even in 1977 Bradley's dual assignments are significant because minorities constituted only 14 per cent of the upper four level job categories (officials and managers, professionals, technicians and sales workers) in the television industry in 1976, according to recent studies.
So, in many ways Bradley is a rare cat. First, he's an anchorman with a full beard, his flecked with gray. "Refined thug," is the way one male watcher describes the husky, customed-tailored Bradley look: the O.J. Simpson-wide shoulders, the furrowed brow, the steely brown eyes and the Afro that seems to get shorter each week, "I hadn't planned for an anchor job. I don't sit down and calculate things for myself in a five-year plan manner," says Bradley. "I was totally surprised by the offer and I'm enjoying it."
By society's various yardsticks, Bradley represents success. However, for Bradley and many others in their mid-30s, whose childhood poverty still provides that incentive for self-improvement, whose jobs today are the fruits of the civil rights movement that started in their teen years, the way up hasn't been as smooth as today's status suggests.
He stops lumbering around the kitchen of his Capitol Hill townhouse. The smile that plays constantly behind the beard freezes. Even his dog, a 12 pound Vietnamese dachshund named Cia Gio, seems to pause.
"I worked for nothing then $1 an hour. I did the news, the sports, even play by play. At WCBS in New York I worked a regular shift from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then did more stories on my own. Hours meant nothing to me," he says, pausing, his debate suspended somewhere above the pernod bottle in his hand.
"In Vietnam I never had a day off, I didn't think of the time. Sometimes during the presidential campaign I was up at 5 a.m. and going until midnight. I was home only 20 nights during those months. Now I work six days a week. No, I don't think it's been easy."
His achievements are underscored by his beating out society's view that he was one of those ghetto kids who wouldn't make it. The only child of a broken marriage, Bradley was brought up in one of Philadelphia's worst neighborhoods, so bad his mother, a seamstress, domestic and cook, sent him away to boarding school. Though he was a serious youngster, he was aimless until he went to college.
When friends and colleagues are asked about Bradley they draw a picture of a perceptive and meticulous man, one who's gregarious but whose humor can be self-deprecating and a put-down. He's very disciplined, but was usually the last person to make the campaign press transportation, ganized disorganized person, an extroverted introvert or an introverted extrovert, I don't know."
At the code of his self-control, and his methodical approach are three things, his Catholic upbringing, including daily Mass and silent study halls, his teaching experience and sports. Bradley has always been a jock, from street stickball to ice hockey at a Rhode Island boarding school, to football at Cheney State College on a steadily lossing team, to postcollege games on weekends with a semi-professional team, to last summer's Plains, Ga., softball games.
Party to compensate for feelings of rejection as a child, Bradley is very generous with people he likes. "He's always offering his place for someone to stay when he's out of town," says Barbara Vance, a real estate agent and the wife of Jim Vance.
During the campaign, "Bradley worked very hard," Kandy Stroud recalls. He has a hefty dose of ego but he didn't let that get in the way of his work. He told me once he enjoyed riding on the zoo plane (the plane that followed Carter) because everyone was more relaxed and less self-important. Also he's very generous and would give people copies of the pictures he was always taking."
Before he was assigned to the campaign, Bradley didn't think politics would provide the excitement he craves. The Vietnam war had provided that stimulation and he was one of the last correspondents evacuated from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
An upbeat looseness is very much a part of Bradley. When author Vertamae Grosvenor, a close friend, flew to Paris, he met her at the airport on a motorcycle. Riding side by side to the taxi, he yells, "You got the grits?"
Married briefly many years ago, Bradley is sexy and flirtatious. It's something his colleagues in the press notice right away. "I've been in love with three women, a black, a white and a yellow," he says, explaining that right now he has a truce on any long-term arrangements.
Right now Ed Bradley is a man torn by his professional needs and his desires for real privacy.He says that the White House "is where I should be right now," that the anchor slot is a challenge but still "I wonder about those friends who don't hear from me anyone. There are people I want to call and say, 'how are you', but I don't have five minutes. I hope they understand. It's a terrible period but it's something I have to do."
As Bradley sits taking in his cluttered living room, piling rhythm and blues records on the stereo, his life begins to fit a pattern: Time after time he has taken a gamble, jumped at an offer of something new, and retreated as soon as he became bored.
One night after a basketball game, Bradley, who was teaching elementary school math, dropped by WDAS-FM, a Philadelphia radio station where he was dared to try his hand at reading the news. Bradley immediately liked the sense of command and started volunteering four hours a night. Eventually he quit his teaching job and worked every available position at the station, including regular reporting after a riot in Philadelphia in 1964. By the time he resigned he was program manager.
In 1967 Bradley followed a girl friend to New York City. On the way he sent WCBS radio a special delivery letter asking for a job. "Ed found the first year very hard," a good friend recalls. "There were all the edges - he was black, the field was news and the work was highly competitive. But, just like he does now, he put on the blinders to all other interests and just worked hard."
After four years of school strikes and picket lines, Bradley began to feel itchy. "I felt like I was on an assembly line," he says. "That sign in Times Square, it had a man running looking at his watch.He was running looking at his watch. He was running and he wasn't going anywhere - well, that scared me."
It was also the end of the 1960s, a time for people to drop out as the cities cooled off and priorities were restructured.
For one year the French Riviera and Paris gave Bradley a peaceful repeat. Ever since grade school he had been writing poetry, something he is still very serious about, and he wanted to try "The Great American Novel." For a while, the summer villa on the Mediterranean, his occasional jobs as a commercial voice and disco deejay, was fun. Then the baguettes got stale and scarce.
At that time the story dominating Paris was the peace talks. Both needing and wanting to work. Bradley started stringing for CBS Television and Radio. Every time Madame Binh had a statement, his rent was paid. Yet he recalls a lingering frustration. "Mainly because I was working for CBS as a stringer, I wasn't in or out," he says. "I felt like a second-class citizen. I was uncertain of my status. And frankly I was frustrated by not having the title."
Back in New York, Bradley had lunch with a CBS editor, looked around at the crowds and confusion and said, "No, I don't want to work in New York. It's unliveable. I would rather be in Vietnam." Presto. In weeks Bradley joined the six CBS correspondents in Saigon.
Nam, as Bradley calls it, was his big break. It was not only "The War" for Bradley's generation of soldier, protester and correspondent but the most important television story of the decade.
When Bradley arrived in Saigon, he was experienced in radio but fairly new to television. But he learned fast, his reports earned him a reputation as an excellent reporter, and his perceptions drew admiration from his colleagues.
on his whitewashed walls are framed photographs of the faces of that war, especially the children, who had been left with only identification tags as their possessions. Bradley didn't agree with the politics of the war. "I saw it as another neocolonist venture of the United States," he says. But he wanted to show how people were caught in the power struggle.
"My cameraman, Norman Lloyd, and I were making the rounds of the Phnon Penh commander posts one morning when we saw a guy sitting by the side of the road who had been hit in the eye. Beside him was his friend, whose leg had been blown off, leaving the skin just hanging around the bone. They were both 30. The guy didn't have a Band Aid or any gauze. And they had been siting there for three hours," says Bradley, his husky voice very even and slow.
But, as he describes that long wait by the side of the road, his voice rises, "Now, why didn't a helicopter come? Because the Cambodian pilots were using the planes to evacuate people for money. Finally that got a ride to the hospital. We followed and filmed the operation. He died, thrashing on the operating table, and he didn't have to die.He died because someone was cheating."
Experiences like those are hard to erase. So it wasn't surprising that at last week's televised press conference, Bradley asked President Carter about Vietnam. Two questions about the future diplomatic relations with Vietnam had already been asked, but Bradley asked a third.
Standing in the front row, his head-tipped to the ceiling, Bradley asked, "Pr. President, on the subject of Vietnam, do you feel . . . any moral obligation to help rebuild that country?"
President Carter, who seemed very solemn and slightly uncomfortable, said, "The destruction was mutual" and "I don't feel we ought to apologize or castigate ourselves."
Later Bradley said that briefly, very briefly, images of Vietnam had flashed across his mind while Carter answered. Again, his feelings represent his independence, as he says. "When he said 'we don't have a debt' those pictures unintentionally came back, no particular person, just quick images. I thought I would get a good response because of Carter's moral stand. And right or wrong, the United States destroyed that country."