Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Journalism's Sidney Poitier, RIP

He looked thinner the past couple of years, but still distinguished. The reseved demeanor remained, as did the beard -- it seemed always to have lots of salt amidst the pepper, and there was that dang earring that seemed like an attempt to pull some years off his tally. He remained a fixture of the most watched news program in the US. And he always had the ability to connect to his subjects -- no one on 60 Minutes ever captured the soul of the person he profiled as well as Edward Rudolph Bradley, Junior.

Ed Bradley will be remembered as an icon, and he should. The Philadelphia native graduated from Cheney State College and became a teacher before working in journalism. He was a stringer for CBS News in Vietnam, and was wounded in Cambodia in 1973. His work was well-received, to say the least. CBS News offered him a permanent position, which Bradley parlayed into an historical achievement -- becoming the first black reporter to obtain the coveted and prominent White House reporting beat for a US network when CBS named him its White House correspondent in 1976.

From there, Bradley became one of the first celebrity journalists but unlike others in the category, he traded upon his ability as a journalist, not a celebrity. He was CBS's least controversial anchor in many ways because his own liberal views rarely permeated his newspieces. And no one opened up his interview subjects better than Bradley.

In 1981 he landed a coveted spot as co-anchor on 60 Minutes, where he became the newsmagazine's best profiler, winning various Emmys and other awards. He also headlined the launch of 60 Minutes II, which had a successful run before dying as a result of Dan Rather's and Mary Mapes' inability to sort fact from forgery in the Texas Air National Guard story of September 2004. He remained a fixture on 60 Minutes until his death from leukemia.

The thrice-married Bradley's personal interests all fit within the parameters of cool: jazz music, fine wines, good cigars, the newest gadgets and nice threads. His alter ego "Teddy" befriended cultural icon Hunter S. Thompson and musicians from the Marsalis brothers to Jimmy Buffett to every drummer, strummer, hornblower and sax player in New Orleans. Bradley gave New Orleans his love too -- involving himself in the community during the Katrina aftermath.

But ultimately Bradley will be remembered as a groundbreaking journalist who was always just "Ed Bradley" not "Ed Bradley, black reporter". To white Americans, Bradley transcended race. He never forgot his own roots, however, and that enabled him to connect to blacks, too. As Reginald Dogan, a journalistic progeny of Bradley said, "Watching Ed Bradley on '60 Minutes' showed me not only could I work in journalism, but also I could excel and reach the top. Just seeing him on Sunday nights inspired so many young black students to realize that they could do it too."

Thus, Bradley is the Sidney Poitier of journalism -- the distinguished, respected, capable and accomplished black leading man who obtained entry into an exclusive club, erased the color-line divide and became a positive example for future generations of black children.

On Thursday, Bradley died at age 65 leaving an enviable legacy: pioneer, trailblazer, and icon.

Ed Bradley, RIP.

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