Can you say in the paper that his favorite expression, to male reporters at least, was “Keep your pecker up?” He used to say that to me all the time, which I wrote about in my book.
When I was flacking [the book] on “CBS This Morning” last year, I was waiting in the green room with a bunch of other people and Gayle King walked in. “Hey, which one of you is Mark Leibovich?”
I raised my hand and she smiled at me. “Hey, keep your pecker up,” she yelled, and no one else had any idea what she was talking about. “I love that,” she said, “and I love Ben Bradlee for saying that.”
What was great about Ben was that he embodied a much more confident time in American journalism — before everyone was so terrified of offending readers, not giving them what they wanted, being accused of bias, not being sufficiently solicitous of the staff’s feelings or constituency complaints or whatever grievance was trending on “social media.”
So he was a throwback in many ways. But he was also the embodiment of the newsman who had impact — capital I impact. Yes, these were very different days, but the holy grail of journalism is the same today as it ever was: having impact. He had it in spades, and wielded it with style and swagger.
Mark Leibovich is a New York Times staff writer, former Post reporter and author of “This Town.”