WASHINGTON - My son, who is dabbling in high school journalism, wonders why all of the geezers like his parents are making a big deal about Ed Bradley's death. Child, let me tell you:
He was so good at what he did. In an age of big-personality journalism and ranting-for-rent demagogues, he never shouted. He didn't have to. He let the story speak for itself. He was a reporter's reporter. He followed his curiosity. He wanted the facts. Even more, he wanted the truth.
Whether interviewing Timothy McVeigh, George Burns, Muhammad Ali, or the parties in the incendiary Duke lacrosse case, he always showed the same unwavering persistence in his questions and a straight-down-the-middle truth-seeking objectivity. He never revealed his own opinion, even if you did see what looked like love in his twinkling eyes during his Lena Horne interview.
As one of the first black journalists to be featured prominently on network television, Edward Rudolph Bradley, Jr., 65, became important in black American households. That he was still prominently on the air almost up to the day he died last week of leukemia, is a measure of how important he had become in all U.S. households.
He came into the business as a radio reporter in his hometown of Philadelphia and then at New York's WCBS in the late 1960s. Mainstream newsrooms were opening up to black journalists under an unusual affirmative action program called "urban riots." But, as Mr. Bradley said in later interviews, he soon let his assignment editor know he was not there to cover only the "black stories." He was too restless for that and we, his audience, are the richer for it.
In 1971, Mr. Bradley joined CBS News as a stringer in its Paris bureau. He covered the last days of the Vietnam War. He was wounded by mortar fire in Cambodia. He won just about every award a broadcast journalist can win, including 19 Emmys. But it also says a lot about Mr. Bradley that, according to the New York Times, his close friends at his death bed included fellow black journalism pioneer Charlayne Hunter-Gault of National Public Radio and musical artist Jimmy Buffett of Margaritaville.
Senior correspondent Bill Neikirk of the Chicago Tribune "sensed a powerful restlessness in this tall, thin reporter" when the two covered the White House during President Carter's years. Mr. Bradley made no secret of his dislike for the White House beat, which should surprise no one who is familiar with it or with Mr. Bradley. Contrary to its glamorous sound, the White House beat is an exhausting and confining "bubble," as its inmates call it. The bubble herds you from one place to another with the president. It doesn't allow much room for enterprise. Mr. Bradley had too much "powerful restlessness" for that.
Mr. Bradley was important because role models are important. You don't appreciate the importance of role models until you're old enough to re-examine the pivotal moments in your life and who had the biggest influence on you at the time.
"As a young black man watching him," a reader named "Greg" posted on the Tribune Web site: "I came to believe it was possible to be a successful black man without denying one's self." So did I. That's a powerful legacy Mr. Bradley leaves. Growing up in a working class neighborhood, his folks told him that he could be anything he wanted. He took them up on it.
Even before the doors of opportunity were fully opened to blacks, Mr. Bradley challenged the system. He worked hard and prepared himself. He opened himself to the world and dared it to turn him away. He wanted to be a lot and he succeeded.
Thanks to examples like his, the rest of us know that we can succeed, too.
Clarence Page's column is distributed by Tribune Media Services.