Sheree R. Curry
Special to TelevisionWeek
Ed Bradley, CBS News correspondent and co-editor of “60 Minutes,” is this year’s recipient of the National Association of Black Journalists’ Lifetime Achievement Award.
Mr. Bradley, an 18-time Emmy winner-three won just last year-has produced unforgettable news stories that made a difference. His June 2002 report “The Church on Trial,” about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, won him an Emmy, as did his March 2000 interview with condemned Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Mr. Bradley’s interview with Mr. McVeigh is the only television interview Mr. McVeigh ever granted.
When Mr. Bradley reported on the plight of Africans dying of AIDS in his hour-long June 2000 special “Death by Denial,” he not only won a Peabody Award but also helped convince drug companies to donate AIDS drugs and discount prices.
“Ed has had a life and a consistency of journalistic excellence,” said Bryan Monroe, an NABJ VP and the assistant VP of news at Knight Ridder in San Jose, Calif. “He has broken many stories on African Americans and has been a beacon for many journalists working today. They see the great journalism he has been doing and say, ‘I want to be like him.'”
Surprisingly, this 64-year-old Philadelphia native originally started out as a teacher. In 1964, armed with a B.S. in education from Cheyney (Pa.) State College, he taught in Philadelphia-area classrooms, eventually becoming an interim principal. All the while, he volunteered or worked part time for $1.50 an hour at Philadelphia radio station WDAS.
At WDAS he did a variety of jobs, including spinning records by Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Billie Holiday, according to an interview with writer R.J. DeLuke that is posted at allaboutjazz.com. (Mr. Bradley was unavailable for an interview with TelevisionWeek due to his being on vacation while “60 Minutes” was on hiatus for the month of July.)
When the riots broke out in Philadelphia during the civil rights era, Mr. Bradley was there. According to a video interview he gave the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, Mr. Bradley took the initiative to cover the riots for the radio station, calling in stories from a pay phone. “I knew I wasn’t suited to be a classroom teacher,” he said.
One day he arrived to interview Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was sitting in his Philadelphia hotel room in his stocking feet and a T-shirt, eating potato salad and collard greens, Mr. Bradley recounted. Even in the casual circumstances, “I remember being stunned watching this man,” he said, but he also knew Dr. King was going to be late for the interview, so Mr. Bradley improvised and interviewed others while waiting for Dr. King.
In August 1967 Mr. Bradley followed a mentor to New York and took a full-time position with WCBS radio. He said he was one of three blacks on staff; the two others were a radio technician and a janitor. He was given mainly black-related stories until he went to the assigning editor and said, “I want to be treated at this station the same way you treat anyone else. If you can’t see your way clear to do that, I’ll take it up with the news director.” From that point on, he said in the Maynard interview, he saw a change in the kind of assignments he received.
In September 1971 Mr. Bradley jumped to CBS News as a stringer in its Paris bureau.
A year later he transferred to the Saigon, South Vietnam, bureau and in April 1973 he was wounded while on assignment in Cambodia.
In June 1974 he was assigned to the bureau in Washington. He became anchor of “CBS Sunday Night News” in November 1976 and joined “60 Minutes” during the 1981-82 season. This fall will mark his 25th season with “60 Minutes.”
“I remember when I first met Ed at NABJ in New York in 1989,” said Mr. Monroe, the NABJ VP. “I was a young journalist and there was Ed Bradley sipping on a glass of wine. He was one of the kindest journalists I met, but a fierce journalist and fierce competitor. Singling him out for lifetime achievement recognizes his career of work in journalism.”