The talk of the town of late is a book about
Ben Bradlee that’s got
Bob Woodward‘s knickers, if not caught in a big fat wringer, at least in a twist.
Sally Quinn isn’t too happy, either. The book is called
Yours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee, and the author is
Jeff Himmelman. The
New York Times referred to it as a “tell-all.” If you felt the earth move here in the past two weeks it was probably caused by the turbulence
that has consumed book and author since its publication.
Himmelman, a Washingtonian, has a long professional and personal history with Bradlee, Woodward, and Quinn. He worked for
Woodward on his 2001 Alan Greenspan book,
Maestro, and co-authored
A Different Life, the 2009 memoir of Quinn and Bradlee’s son, Quinn Bradlee. The idea for his current book started three years ago, with Sally
Quinn, who wanted a sequel to Ben’s earlier memoir,
A Good Life. The sequel idea became this biography, with the full cooperation of Woodward, Quinn, and Bradlee, the lauded former executive
editor of the
Washington Post, who is now 91 years old*.
Nobody disputes any of that. Still, Woodward calls the
book “bad journalism to the core,” and refers to Himmelman as
dishonest.” A close friend of Bradlee and Quinn said they are
“repulsed” by the book. Himmelman says none of them will speak
to him. At issue are a few passages. The first has to do with
Himmelman reporting that Woodward’s Watergate partner, Carl
Bernstein, did talk to a grand juror in the case, even though
both reporters denied this happened. The more heated issue is
a quote in the files from Bradlee’s memoir in which he seems to
cast doubt on the ways in which Woodward was contacted by
his famous source, “Deep Throat.” Bradlee is quoted as asking
the question, “Did that potted palm incident ever happen?” and
saying, “There’s a residual fear in my soul that that isn’t
Woodward, according to Himmelman, asked that those
particular Bradlee references to Deep Throat not be used. Himmelman
a tense meeting with Bradlee and Woodward at Bradlee’s dining
room table, with Woodward demanding, “Don’t use the quotes,
Jeff,” and saying, “So, you think this is the big story for
your book, huh?” Bradlee, on the other hand, says, “I’m okay with
While inflammatory, these passages are a small part of
a book that is highly readable and at times inspiring, especially for
lovers of American journalism. It is loaded with lessons in how
to run a newspaper by the Bradlee standard, which include
acknowledging “owners are everything,” “energy is vital,” and
that you should “hire people brighter than you are.” He also
delves deeply into the relationship Bradlee had with
Post publisher Katharine Graham, which he calls “one of the most powerful and interesting relationships in the history of American
Were they in a love affair? “In a chaste sense, yes,” he says. The Ben Bradlee in
Yours in Truth is not sentimental but still wide open about his life. “I can’t tell you how many times he said to me, ‘I have nothing to
hide,'” Himmelman says.
The author also says the “golden age” of newspapers, which Bradlee symbolizes, is gone. “When I talked to [executive editor]
Marcus Brauchli, he showed me his BlackBerry and said now the
Post always has to be first in the Twittersphere. It’s such a different landscape” from Bradlee’s day.
Here’s more from our talk with Himmelman about the book and the colorful individuals involved.
What is the status of your friendship with Bradlee, Quinn, and Woodward?
I’ve been reading about it in the newspaper more than
I’ve been hearing about it in person. There’s been no contact since
last week. The last person I had contact with was Sally. I had
delivered the first copy of the book to them. She was friendly.
It was all friendly, and then it kind of ceased.
You have since attempted to reach out, and there’s been no response?
What do you think happened?
I can only speculate. I think she decided she didn’t like some of the stuff at the end of the book.
You mean about her?
What did it feel like to be called “dishonest” by Bob Woodward?
[laughs] Disappointment. Surprise. Injustice. It
doesn’t feel great to have someone calling you those things. Nothing in
book was dishonest. He didn’t attack the reporting, he just
attacked me. Did I know there would be some reaction? Yes. Did
I expect it to be that extreme? No.
Or that personal?
Do you think Woodward is thin-skinned?
I think his reaction to all this speaks for itself.
Did you send galleys to Bradlee and Quinn?
No, because it was embargoed. Ben and Sally got it first and in hardcover. I don’t think Bob saw a galley.
New York Times
piece mentioned your book in the same sentence as
The Devil Wears Prada, which was a vindictive book.
New York Times piece was journalistically irresponsible. They didn’t give me a chance to respond to Bob’s quotes.
Were you alone with Bradlee for most of your interviews?
Yes, but Carol [Bradlee’s assistant] would come in and out.
Did you record all your conversations with him?
Yes, I had a tape recorder.
Apparently Quinn is upset that you used material from what she considered private events, and that you quoted a letter Bradlee
wrote to her but tore up and never sent.
Nobody was under any illusion. Everyone knew I was
writing the book. At times, people–friends of theirs–would say something
was off the record, and I respected that. There are lots of
things I could have reported that would have made everyone’s lives
a lot more difficult. But that’s not what I was doing. I wasn’t
trying to put out dirt about somebody. That couldn’t be further
from the truth. It wasn’t as if I pulled the torn letter to
Sally from beneath his pillow. It was in his files.
Do you feel you betrayed them?
I don’t feel that I did. I really, truly don’t. Ben
was so unequivocal with me. If I could have just one wish, it would be
for people to not worry about whether Bob Woodward’s feelings
were hurt but rather they just read the book and judge it on
its own terms. There’s a lot of love for Bob in this book, too.
There’s a lot of love for Sally, too.
Would it help if Bradlee were to come out with a statement saying, “I’m all for this book”?
I don’t think he can do that, for all kinds of reasons. There’s been so much turbulence. I hope when the dust settles we can
pick back up. I love that man.
If this book costs you your friendships with Woodward, Quinn, and Bradlee, if they never spoke to you again, would it be worth
The idea that any of this is easy for me is not the case. Do I regret writing the book I wrote? No. Would I write the same
book again? Yes.
*This information has been updated from a previous version.