Former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee in 1973
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  • Former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee in 1973

A word about the late Ben Bradlee.

He played a big role in getting Richard Nixon out of a job—the presidency—he didn’t deserve to have.

And he played a big role in getting the Sun-Times out of a prize—the Pulitzer—it did deserve.

Bradlee was one of two prominent editors on the Pulitzer Prize Board who argued that the Sun-Times‘s 1978 Mirage series—now legendary, then just the talk of journalism—didn’t deserve a Pulitzer because the journalism was deceptive. The Sun-Times opened a bar, the Mirage, and kept track of the city inspectors who wandered in with their hands out. Hidden cameras whirred; reporters disguised as bartenders scribbled notes.

The series ran 25 days. Chicago couldn’t get enough. And when Bradlee and Eugene Patterson of the St. Petersburg Times decreed it unworthy, what I’d call Chicago-style investigative reporting took a mortal hit. Here’s a link to a column I wrote several years ago meditating on the episode.

Bradlee didn’t mention the Mirage debate in his memoir, A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures. I wish he had. It altered journalism.