RIP, Ed Bradley
There aren't many of our TV news icons left, now. When I say "our", I mean those pioneering Black Journalists who for decades carried the water of being "the only", knowing the special responsibility to "represent" that fell to each of them that often felt as much a tiring burden as it was a uniquely rewarding duty. Max Robinson, founder of the National Association of Black Journalists, fierce advocate for our people in journalism and brother to the equally fierce advocate Randall Robinson is gone. Faith Fancher, the quiet yet equally insistent face of San Francisco journalistic sisterhood, is gone. Carl T. Rowan, the man on the radio whose mellifluous voice I heard day after day speaking truth to power and whose words he was never afraid to have in the Amsterdam News even as he was walking the halls of power in Washington DC -- and who I will always revere for calling the truth about Ronald Reagan being a racist -- gone.
Now God has called home their foil, their balance, the face of African-American news journalism known the world over: Ed Bradley. Called him home at the young age of 65.
I remember when Ed Bradley came to 60 Minutes to replace Dan Rather, having already been the first Black White House correspondent and therefore already All That. I remember the fro, thinking how Soul Train it looked next to Mr. Middle Americas, Morley Safer and Mike Wallace. I remember folks not taking to him much at first - after all, Rather's shoes as the "in-depth story man" were pretty big and nobody expected a successor to make their own mark in the spot. Yet Ed Bradley - smooth as silk even as he was a piercing interviewer - did so, and did so quickly. And I became a weekly 60 Minutes addict, for many years, just to watch him. I never had a desire to be a journalist, but if I had wanted that, I would have wanted to be just like him. Piercing. Mellow. Able to get his subjects to open up and talk: Can anyone say that there was *ever* a more informative, HUMAN, interview than his with Timothy McVeigh as he sat on death row for the Oklahoma city bombing? A more revering, pride-filling interview than with the now-disabled Greatest, Muhammed Ali? Was there any other reporter who could have shielded Michael Jackson from looking like a complete clown as he whinged like a 2 year old about being manhandled when arrested for alleged child molestation? Can anyone ever doubt that he earned all 20 of his Emmys for television journalism?
No, they can't.
I did not have an opportunity to see one of Ed Bradley's last stories - with most of those involved in the Duke Rape Scandal. But, apparently, it was that interview that made clear to the world not that Ed Bradley still had the right stuff as an interviewer -- nobody doubted that he did -- but that he was gravely ill. I wish I had heard. I wish I had known. I would have liked to curl up, one last Sunday, to see him. To see that hard-hitting, yet always quiet, back-and-forth, his earring remaining a giant "Fuck You" to conservative imagery. You can tell the type of reach and power he had with viewers by things like the fact that I learned of Bradley's passing because my immigrant Aussie husband - who has not watched a Sunday news program in the 3 years that he has been in the United States -- sent me the news article from The Australian.
You see, he too knew Ed Bradley. From all the way on the other side of the world, even though he's white and therefore almost certainly did not see Ed Bradley as anything more than a great reporter, since he knew nothing about what it meant to be a Black journalist in America at the time that Ed Bradley was making -- and keeping -- his mark. That makes perfect sense - Ed Bradley, earring-wearing, stylin' and profilin' hard hitting journalist, just had it going on like that. He was great at what he did, and did for all of us while being great. He carried the water, and never spilled a drop as far as any of us could see.
His close friend -- and another one of my Black Journalism heroines - Charlayne Hunter-Gault probably summed it up best yesterday:
I think people might want to characterize him as a trailblazer for black journalists. . .I think he’d be proud of that. But I think Ed was a trailblazer for good journalism. Period.
He sure was.
Rest in peace, Ed Bradley. I will miss your Sundays.