An award-winning broadcast journalist, Ed Bradley (born 1941) remains best known for his work on the weekly news program 60 Minutes.
Born on June 22, 1941, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Edward R. Bradley received a B.S. degree in education from Cheyney State College in Cheyney, Pennsylvania. From 1963 to 1967 Bradley worked as a disc jockey and news reporter for WDAS radio in Philadelphia. From there he moved on to WCBS radio in New York. He joined CBS as a stringer in the Paris bureau in 1971. Within a few months he was transferred to the Saigon bureau, where he remained until he was assigned to the Washington bureau in June 1974.
Until 1981, Bradley served as anchor for CBS Sunday Night News and as principal correspondent for CBS Reports. In 1981 he replaced Dan Rather as a correspondent for the weekly news program, 60 Minutes. In 1992 Bradley was made host of the CBS news program, Street Stories.
Bradley has won seven Emmy Awards for broadcast journalism, two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards for broadcast journalism, a George Foster Peabody Broadcasting Award, a George Polk Award, and an NCAA Anniversary Award.
As a correspondent for CBS's 60 Minutes since 1981, Bradley has become one of the most visible African-Americans on network television news. As Morgan Strong observed in Playboy, Bradley's "soft-spoken and often intensely personal reports made him the first black reporter to become a comfortable part of America's extended TV family."
Bradley's easygoing style belies his many achievements. Some have commented that he seems to have scaled the heights of the television news business more by a knack for being in the right place at the right time than by driving ambition. Michele Wallace of Essence called him "a maverick by happenstance, a trailblazer by accident, an inadvertent explorer on the frontier of racial barriers." But Bradley is driven not by ambition in the usual sense—"If I never anchor the national news, that's fine, " he told Wallace— but by a less tangible standard. "I think I always need a new challenge, " he commented to Kristin McMurran in People. "I do need some adventure in my life." And he pointed out to Wallace: "I've always been driven—but I'm not the kind of person who says 'This is going to take me here and that's going to take me there.' I don't have goals—I have standards of achievement."
Bradley grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in a neighborhood where "if you didn't fight, you got beat up, " he recalled to McMurran. "We were poor, but there was always food on the table. I was raised by people who worked 20-hour days at two jobs each…. I was told 'You can be anything you want, kid.' When you hear that often enough, you believe it."
Drifted Into Broadcast News
When Bradley graduated from college in 1964 he went to work as an elementary school teacher while moonlighting as an unpaid disc jockey at a local jazz radio station. He gradually moved into Philadelphia's WDAS news operation, reading hourly newscasts and still receiving no wages. He got the chance to cover his first hard news story when rioting broke out in north Philadelphia and WDAS found itself short-staffed.
"It must have been about two o'clock in the morning…. I was coming out of a club and turned on the radio, " Bradley related to Tony Vellela in the Christian Science Monitor. "I heard Gary Shepard reporting on this rioting that was going on." Bradley proceeded to the station to get a tape recorder and an engineer. "For the next 48 hours, without sleep, I covered the riots…. I was getting these great scoops…. And that kind of hooked me on the idea of doing live stuff, going out and covering the news."
Bradley proved himself a capable newsman, and the station began paying him a small salary. In 1967 he moved to WCBS, an all-news CBS Radio affiliate in New York City. He worked there for three and a half years before restlessness prompted him to take a vacation in France. "I decided that I was born to live in Paris, " he told Strong. After quitting his $45, 000-a-year job and moving to the French capital, he planned to "write the great American novel, " according to McMurran. "I didn't go to Paris for a career, " Strong quoted him as saying, "I went to Paris for my life." Bradley wrote poetry and enjoyed the cultural life of the city until he ran out of money. He subsequently took the only opportunity that would allow him to stay in Paris, becoming a stringer for CBS's Paris bureau where peace talks between the United States and North Vietnam were in progress. Paid by the story, Bradley was able to earn a modest living covering the conference. "If they held the talks, I made the rent money, " he told Strong. "I remember once when the talks were suspended for 13 weeks and I got a check for $12.50. But I managed to survive."
After a year, the journalist decided he wanted to get back into the news business full time. "My ego wouldn't let me be part time, " he admitted in People. He noted in Playboy, "I decided I was either going all the way in or getting out, " and became a war correspondent in Indochina for CBS-TV. He spent most of the next three years in Vietnam and Cambodia and was wounded in a mortar attack on Easter Sunday in 1973. Reassigned to Washington, D.C., in 1974, the journalist returned to Vietnam in 1975 to report on the end of the war.
Covered the Carter White House
After the fall of Saigon, South Vietnam, which marked the defeat of the anti-Communist government, Bradley returned to the United States to cover Jimmy Carter's campaign for the U.S. presidency. Following the election, CBS assigned him to its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he became the network's first African American White House correspondent. Though the White House beat is considered a prestigious position, Bradley hated it. For one thing, he was CBS's second-string reporter in the capital. Secondly, as he told Strong, "it was an office job. You go to the same place every day and check in … down in the basement in this little nook in the back of the White House press room. And if Jimmy Carter jumps, I [had] to be there to say how high. But it [was] no great fun, and it wasn't the kind of work I wanted to do."
Chafing under the constraints of the assignment, Bradley acquired a reputation for being hard to get along with, one which has followed him ever since. He admits that his work in Washington did not bring out the best in him, but he feels the charge is unjustified. "I don't think I'm abrasive or egocentric. I think I have a healthy ego, but my problem in Washington was that there were too many bullshit assignments, " he explained to Strong. "I had always worked overseas…. When I went out, I was the producer. So then to come back and have to report to a desk … it was all a big change for me…. I had not come up through the system."
As soon as he could, Bradley left the Washington bureau to join CBS Reports and produce documentaries. The new job took him back to Southeast Asia to make "What's Happening in Cambodia?, " a program about refugees fleeing the country during the 1970s. While filming in the refugee camps in Thailand, Bradley and cameraman Norman Lloyd encountered some young Cambodians who were searching for missing relatives. "It's the kind of thing that Norman and I do best, " Bradley recalled in TV Guide. "We breeze into this Cambodian joint, throw down some beers and say 'What are you guys doing here, man? No kidding! You're going to do what? Can we go with you? You can't get in, huh? We'll get you in."' Bradley and Lloyd succeeded in getting the youths into the camp and after following them around for most of the day, captured a tearful mother-son reunion on camera.
Though Bradley resists being pigeonholed as a African American reporter and is said to hate covering "black" stories, some of his finest moments with CBS Reports came while focusing on racial issues. In "Murder—Teen-age Style, " for example, the reporter examined the problem of violence among African American gangs in Los Angeles. Producer Howard Stringer, who had to talk Bradley into taking the assignment, was quoted by TV Guide's Rod Townley as saying "[Bradley]'s black … he's younger than most of our correspondents, hipper than most of our correspondents, and knows the world better than most of our correspondents." Stringer also noted that Bradley "doesn't like and doesn't do well at really abstract stories…. Ed is a reporter." But the journalist combined both reportage and analysis in his "Blacks in America: With All Deliberate Speed, " a 1979 look at race relations in the United States that won him an Emmy and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award. The documentary contrasted the status of African Americans in Mississippi and Philadelphia in 1954 and 1979. "To the credit of Bradley and his producer, Philip Burton, Jr., " wrote Axel Madsen in 60 Minutes: The Power and the Politics of America's Most Popular News Show, "the program reported both failures and occasional improvements and concluded that court actions, attempted enforcement, and massive media attention hadn't brought much change."
CBS Reports also sent Bradley to China and Saudi Arabia and to Malaysia to make a documentary on the Vietnamese refugees known as "boat people." "The Boat People" aired in 1979, earning Bradley an Emmy and several other awards. It was also excerpted on 60 Minutes and may have been a deciding factor in the choice of Bradley to join the staff of America's most popular news program.
Bradley had been considered for 60 Minutes when a fourth correspondent was added in the late 1970s, but Harry Reasoner was chosen instead. Then when Dan Rather left the news program to take over Walter Cronkite's position as anchor of the CBS Evening News, Bradley was asked to join Reasoner, Morley Safer, and Mike Wallace. In his book Minute by Minute, producer Don Hewitt wrote of Bradley, "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."
Bradley, as quoted by Hewitt, said, "It soon became apparent that I was the front runner, if I believed Hewitt, who went around saying to everybody but me, 'If there's a better reporter than Bradley, I wish someone would point him out, ' but still he never said it to me. Finally I was in Los Angeles … for a [question] and [answer] session with the TV critics, when a reporter in the back of the room … asked Bob Chandler, the CBS News vice president who looked after 60 Minutes, about who was going to replace Rather. Either Chandler was writing Hewitt's lines or Hewitt was writing his: 'If there is a better reporter than Bradley, etc…'was the answer…. The next week I was named to replace Dan Rather."
The New Face on 60 Minutes
Bradley's presence changed the chemistry of 60 Minutes, with the substitution of his sensitive, compassionate approach to interviewing and reporting for Rather's more aggressive, sometimes pugnacious tactics. Aware that television audiences are notoriously fickle, Bradley felt that if ratings slipped, he would get the blame. But viewers seemed to accept him readily, though some critics have reacted less favorably. In 1983, for example, Mark Ribowsky wrote in TV Guide that Bradley had "not succeeded in establishing a familiar persona for viewers, or made a story sizzle." And four years later, David Shaw, in the same magazine, called Bradley one of the "least impressive of the correspondents [on 60 Minutes]. " Shaw faulted several of Bradley's stories for being "simple" and "superficial" and others for overlooking important questions, but nevertheless praised his "tough-minded report" on defects in the Audi 5000, a story which helped focus attention on a problem that led to the recall of 250, 000 cars.
Coworkers and critics alike have pointed out Bradley's ability to establish a rapport with his subjects. Mike Wallace remarked that Bradley's approach is "instinctive—he has no idea how he does it." Bradley himself resists analyzing his style; he remarked to Townley, "I'd rather not think about it and just go out and do it, and it will come naturally." When Bradley profiled singer Lena Horne in December of 1981, for example, John Weisman of TV Guide described the journalist's work as "a textbook example of what a great television interview can be." Intercutting Horne's performances with interview segments in which Horne discussed her personal and professional life, Bradley and producer Jeanne Solomon drew an intimate portrait of the singer that, as Bradley observed to Weisman, "told a lot of things about our society. It told a lot about the way women are treated, a lot of things about the way blacks are treated. It told a lot of things about interracial marriages, difficulties in the film and entertainment industries and how those things have changed and not changed." Bradley has said that he feels "Lena" is among his best work, and Wallace called it "as good a piece as I have seen on television in my life." "Lena" won Bradley his first Emmy as a member of the 60 Minutes team.
Bradley's gift for winning his subjects' confidence was also crucial when he interviewed actor Laurence Olivier, who was ill at the time. There was some doubt about whether Olivier would have the stamina to complete the interview, but as Hewitt retold it, "gradually, prodded by Ed's questions, the frail old man who had tottered into the room became Laurence Olivier, the actor. The interview went on for another hour and a half as Laurence Olivier and Ed Bradley jousted with each other. When Jeanne finally said 'cut' neither had fallen off his horse, and we wrapped one of the more memorable 60 Minutes interviews."
Not all of Bradley's interviews have been cordial ones. In one of his first pieces for 60 Minutes, "The Other Face of the IRA, " Bradley spoke with Northern Irish activist Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, prompting a heated discussion of politics and religion, which culminated with McAliskey declaring, "At the end of the day, God will be on the side of the winner, regardless of who wins, regardless of how he wins, because God always was and always will be." Other stories that required a more aggressive approach were Bradley's Emmy-winning study of convicted killer-turned-author Jack Henry Abbott and the story that Bradley described to TV Guide as the toughest he'd ever done: a report on the murder of CBS correspondent George Polk in post-World War II Greece.
The Polk investigation presented several difficulties. Many of the principals were dead, and as Bradley explained to Stephen Galloway in TV Guide, "for the people who are still alive, you're asking them to talk about something that happened 45 years ago. It's difficult to trust their memory." The piece presented a personal difficulty for Bradley as well: he discovered that one of his journalistic heroes, retired CBS correspondent Winston Burdett, might have been involved in a cover-up to protect Polk's killers. "I'd grown up listening to [Burdett] on the radio, " reflected Bradley after what Galloway called "one of the most riveting interviews of one journalist by another."
After more than a decade of investigating and presenting thought-provoking subjects on 60 Minutes and with six Emmy awards and numerous other honors to his credit, Bradley is no longer a new face but an "ominous and undeflectable presence … imperturbable and arguably beyond reproach, " commented Johnathan Schwartz in Gentlemen's Quarterly. "He is adored without worship." In 1995 Bradley was the highest scorer in seven of eight categories among active CBS journalists in a viewers poll in TV Guide.
Occasional rumors of conflict with the 60 Minutes production staff have subsided, as have speculations that Bradley is unhappy with his job. His need for adventure does not seem to have diminished, though, and he travels often, spending much of his life in hotels. The journalist summed up his attitude about his career in People in 1983: "The bottom line is this job is fun. And when it stops being fun, then I'll stop doing it."
Further Reading on Ed Bradley
Hewitt, Don, Minute by Minute, Random House, 1985.
Madsen, Axel, 60 Minutes: The Power and the Politics of America's Most Popular News Show, Dodd, Mead and Company, 1984.
Christian Science Monitor, October 16, 1986.
Ebony, August 1983.
Essence, November 1983.
Gentlemen's Quarterly, May 1989.
Jet, February 20, 1995.
People, November 14, 1983.
TV Guide, October 18, 1980; February 20, 1982; January 22, 1983; February 25, 1984; March 28, 1987; January 19, 1991.