A few weeks ago, while watching “60 Minutes,” my wife and I noticed that Ed Bradley didn't introduce his story on camera sitting there in that familiar chair. Then, when his story began, we immediately noticed his voice sounded frail and weak. It was all a bit alarming. Just before that, he'd covered the Duke rape case. Yet another exclusive. Sometime around all of that we had exchanged e-mails. I wanted to sit down for another chat. One of those talks we'd been having every now and then over the past 20 years or so, dating to when I got my first job in this business at CBS News.
I'm writing this because, while we mourn his passing and chronicle his extraordinary achievements as a reporter, it is not possible to overstate how important he was, and will continue to be, for a generation of African American journalists like myself. He was, simply put, "the man," and many of us dared dream that one day we could maybe, just maybe, achieve just a bit of what he had.
While there have been and continue to be influential black journalists — Max Robinson, Hal Walker, Bernie Shaw, Bryant Gumbel, Jacqueline Adams and Carole Simpson, to name just a few — Ed was the dean of that club. Here was a guy who was a foreign correspondent. Only a handful of minority journalists ever have done that. He was a White House correspondent. The first black man CBS trusted to do that. Few of us ever get there. He was an anchor, and of course for the last 25 years or so, he was there in our living rooms on Sunday evenings, often a bit late after the NFL football clock wound down, and the “60 Minutes” clock began ticking away.
I can remember years ago asking him, "So, how the heck did you do it?" The answer, as I recall, was "Hard work." Doing your homework. Never getting type-cast to do only the "black stories." And something he said to me recently again, "You've got to really believe you can get where you want to go." It sounds so simple. And like all things we watched him do on television, he said it simply, plainly, but with a powerful and compelling matter-of-factness that made even the most complicated, elusive notion seem so obvious and clear.
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Sharing his wisdom
Just to be clear, we weren't close friends. I do wish I'd known him better. I last saw him briefly at an Emmy awards event, and before that over coffee in New York, during yet another, "Ed, how should I handle this?" moment. Our connection was from that knowledge he had of everything younger reporters like me were experiencing, and his openness and willingness to share his wisdom and time.
On that day, ironically, he talked about how he was feeling much better, heading to the gym before all the young guys got there and got in the way, how the travel covering the nation and the world was wearying, and how, though approaching retirement age, he wasn't going anywhere.
He was just 65. Much too soon for me to be writing this.
And don't get me wrong, this isn't just a black and white thing. But as I said at the outset, it is not possible to overstate how much of an inspiration he has been, because he was in so many ways able to transcend so many barriers, and do it years ago, when the country and our business were not nearly as "diverse" as they now strive to be.
He was a real, genuine, authentic guy who even had the audacity, or self-assuredness, to wear an earring on TV on CBS News. You've got to be sure of who you are to do that. That's probably one reason he was such a great reporter. It's easy to imagine him in the streets of Philadelphia years ago, or at Cheney State College, a proud historically black college, not Harvard or Yale, or spinning records at WDAS FM. Years later he had a distinctive ease and confidence about him, whether interviewing criminals, comedians, politicians or just plain folks.
His contributions to broadcast journalism and to our nation's knowledge of the world we live in are immense. His contributions to our culture, and to the hopes and dreams of other journalists of color, are beyond the words and stories he told with such elegance, compassion and grace.
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