Ed Bradley's legacy
November 16, 2006
Ed Bradley paved the way for black journalists.
The "60 Minutes" correspondent who died on Nov. 9 owed his first job to racial turmoil. A native of Philadelphia, he covered the 1965 urban riot as a freelancer, which brought him an offer as a radio reporter.
But Bradley refused to be limited to the "race" beat. He earned a reputation as one of the most ecumenical reporters in the business, covering a wide range of the last four decades' most vivid stories.
After joining CBS News as a stringer in 1971, he was working in the network's Saigon bureau by the following year.
He covered Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign and, from 1976 to 1978, covered the Carter White House.
From 1976 to 1981, he also anchored the "CBS Sunday Night News."
At the time, black news anchors were exceptionally rare, but Bradley's easy manner seemed a natural fit. He also did some reporting for the program "CBS Reports," where his pieces on the Cambodia boat people caught the attention of "60 Minutes" Producer Don Hewitt.
"He's so good and so savvy and so lights up the tube every time he's on it that I wonder what took us so long," Hewitt wrote in his book, "Minute by Minute."
On "60 Minutes," Bradley quickly established himself as a distinctive voice among a talented group of reporters. He shed journalistic light on everything from the Iranian hostage crisis to the Columbine school shootings, from the Catholic Church sex scandals to Hurricane Katrina.
He interviewed a multitude of history makers -- from actors to athletes, mass murderers to musicians, priests to politicians -- and always seemed to elicit elements of their personalities that others missed.
"He was so confident in his own skin that people relaxed with him," explained Leslie Stahl, his colleague on "60 Minutes."
Bradley's skills were widely recognized and amply awarded. He earned four George Foster Peabody awards and 19 Emmys, the last for a segment on the reopening of the 50-year-old racial murder case of Emmett Till.
His value to black journalists is difficult to exaggerate. He proved blacks not only could do the job, but they could do it with panache. Although he disdained racial pandering, he brought a distinctive African-American sensibility to his job.
His calm demeanor and emotional sobriety -- the "coolness" that his colleagues inevitably used to describe him -- reflected an urbane sense of style rarely showcased in mainstream culture. Many thought his decision to wear an ear stud on air would diminish the program's credibility. It didn't. "60 Minutes" remained a ratings leader.
He also was a jazz aficionado and hosted the program "Jazz at Lincoln Center Radio with Ed Bradley," broadcast on more than 200 public radio stations.
Even though Bradley wasn't a public civil rights advocate, black activists seldom criticized him, as they did other mainstream figures, for "selling out." They knew where he stood.
One of his last stories concerned the racially volatile rape case at Duke University. Bradley's interview of one of the accused students revealed information that raised questions about the accuser.
Ed Bradley conveyed a transracial integrity and fairness that gave his reporting a sense of unassailable authority.
He will be deeply missed.
Salim Muwakkil is senior editor of the Chicago-based In These Times magazine (www.inthesetimes.com), and a contributing writer to the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.