Honored newsman famed for interviews

Ed Bradley 1941-2006

November 10, 2006|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun television critic

CBS correspondent Ed Bradley, whose career took him from Vietnam to the White House to 60 Minutes - making him the most prominent African-American television journalist of the era - died yesterday of leukemia. He was 65.

The award-winning newsman, who was born and raised in Philadelphia, died at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, according to a CBS statement. Mr. Bradley underwent heart bypass surgery last year and this week missed his first on-air election night in two decades.

"Ed Bradley was a great journalist who was comfortable in any genre of reporting. He was as comfortable doing a profile of Lena Horne as he was reporting a breaking presidential news story overseas," said Lee Thornton, a University of Maryland professor and a colleague of Mr. Bradley's in CBS' Washington bureau in the 1970s.

FOR THE RECORD - A front-page obituary in yesterday's editions of The Sun incorrectly reported the year that Ed Bradley had heart bypass surgery. It was in April 2003.
The Sun regrets the error.

Though not part of the first generation of African-Americans in network television, Mr. Bradley pioneered by making a hit prime-time newsmagazine more attuned to minority audiences and their concerns.

"A big part of his legacy is the ability he had to keep at it. He stayed there at the network and grew enormously over the years, and everyone is the richer for it," Ms. Thornton said. "Try to imagine what 60 Minutes would have been like without him all these years."

Bradley received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Black Journalists and 19 Emmys during his 39 years with CBS. He also won a host of other national honors including George Foster Peabody, George Polk and Robert F. Kennedy awards.

He joined the pioneering newsmagazine 60 Minutes in 1981, replacing Dan Rather, who had been named anchor of CBS Evening News that year.

Mr. Bradley won his most recent Emmy for a 60 Minutes report on the reopening of an investigation into the racially motivated murder of teenager Emmett Till in 1955 in Mississippi.

Mr. Bradley's last reports involved interviews with members of the Duke University lacrosse team who are embroiled in an alleged rape and a Texas chemical plant charged with causing widespread pollution.

"Ed Bradley was a consummate professional, no matter what kind of story he was reporting, and he served as a bridge between cultures," said Jannette L. Dates, dean of Howard University's School of Communications and co-editor of Split Image: African Americans in the Mass Media.

"What he did on 60 Minutes was bridging, because when he was interviewing an African-American performer like Lena Horne, he always told the story in such a way as to make the wider culture understand how this person arrived where they were as an entertainer and a person."

Born Edward Rudolph Bradley Jr. on June 22, 1941, he was raised in a poor section of Philadelphia by parents who held multiple jobs to make ends meet.

He graduated from Cheyney State College, a historically black college that is now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, with a Bachelor of Science degree in education in 1964.

For three years, he taught sixth grade by day and spun records at night as a jazz disc jockey. He had his first taste of reporting during civil rights demonstrations in the city, when he was sent out with a tape recorder by the station's news director to gather community reaction.

In 1967, he was hired as a full-time reporter by WCBS, the CBS-owned station in New York.

But Mr. Bradley wanted to write novels and in 1971 moved to Paris in hopes of achieving that dream.

"He wanted the French experience for his writing, but he was working as a stringer in our Paris bureau and starving," said Sandy Socolow, former Washington bureau chief for CBS News and executive producer of the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

"At that time, we were frankly running out of reporters to send to Vietnam and thought, `Let's see if we can cut some kind of deal with Bradley to go there.'"

Not prepared to make him a full-time staff member, CBS offered Mr. Bradley a one-year contract in Vietnam without benefits and without guarantees after the year ended.

"It was not much of a deal, but he grabbed it," Mr. Socolow said yesterday. "But within a month of arriving in Vietnam, he was such a star that we had to offer him a contract."

Mr. Socolow said Mr. Bradley's enterprise, courage and on-screen presence impressed the CBS brass in 1971.

"Upon arriving in Vietnam, he was immediately out in the field and filing reports in which he just seemed to leap off the screen at you," he said.

Mr. Bradley paid for the risks he took as a war correspondent; he was hit by shrapnel in his arm and back in 1973 in Cambodia.

The next year, he went to Washington, where he became one of the first African-Americans to cover the White House for a TV network. Mr. Socolow was his bureau chief, and Ms. Thornton, who was the first black woman to cover the White House for the network, was his partner in presidential coverage during much of the 1970s.

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