Spartacus Blog

Ben Bradlee and the death of Mary Pinchot Meyer

Wednesday, 29th October, 2014

John Simkin

Ben Bradlee died last week. The day he died President Barack Obama issued a statement that said: “For Benjamin Bradlee, journalism was more than a profession - it was a public good vital to our democracy. A true newspaperman, he transformed the Washington Post into one of the country’s finest newspapers, and with him at the helm, a growing army of reporters published the Pentagon Papers, exposed Watergate, and told stories that needed to be told - stories that helped us understand our world and one another a little bit better. The standard he set - a standard for honest, objective, meticulous reporting - encouraged so many others to enter the profession. And that standard is why, last year, I was proud to honor Ben with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Today, we offer our thoughts and prayers to Ben’s family, and all who were fortunate to share in what truly was a good life.” (1)

The Daily Telegraph described him as "the foremost American newspaper editor of his time" (2) and The Guardian claimed that he was "the most lauded and influential American journalist of his era". (3) The New York Times agreed and quoted one of his colleagues, Leonard Downie Jr. as saying "We would follow this man over any hill, into any battle, no matter what lay ahead." (4)

Another colleague, went even further. David Von Drehle pointed out: "Charisma is a word, like thunderstorm or orgasm, which sits pretty flat on the page or the screen compared with the actual experience it tries to name. I don’t recall exactly when I first looked it up in the dictionary and read that charisma is a 'personal magic of leadership,' a 'special magnetic charm.' But I remember exactly when I first felt the full impact of the thing itself. Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee was gliding through the newsroom of the Washington Post, pushing a sort of force field ahead of him like the bow wave of a vintage Chris-Craft motor yacht. All across the vast expanse of identical desks, faces turned toward him - were pulled in his direction - much as a field of flowers turns toward the sun. We were powerless to look away." (5)

Most of the obituaries carried a detailed account of the Watergate Scandal. However, as Christopher Reed has pointed out: "Watergate hurt Washington, but was also cited as proof that its political system worked – eventually." (6) The New York Times quoted Bradlee as saying: “No matter how many spin doctors were provided by no matter how many sides of how many arguments, from Watergate on, I started looking for the truth after hearing the official version of a truth.”

None of the obituaries mention the interview that James Truitt gave to the National Enquirer that was published on 23rd February, 1976, with the headline, "Former Vice President of Washington Post Reveals... JFK 2-Year White House Romance". Truitt told the newspaper that Mary Pinchot Meyer was having an affair with John F. Kennedy. He also claimed that Mary had told them that she was keeping an account of this relationship in her diary. Truitt added that after Meyer had been murdered on 12th October, 1964, the diary had been removed from her house by Ben Bradlee and James Jesus Angleton and later destroyed. (7)

The newspaper sent a journalist to interview Bradlee about the issues raised by Truitt. According to one eyewitness account, Bradlee "erupted in a shouting rage and had the reporter thrown out of the building". Nina Burleigh claims that it was Watergate that motivated Truitt to give the interview. "Truitt was disgusted that Bradlee was getting credit as a great champion of the First Amendment for exposing Nixon's steamy side in Watergate coverage after having indulgently overlooked Kennedy's hypocrisies." Truitt was also angry that Bradlee had not exposed Kennedy's affair with Mary Pinchot Meyer in his book, Conversations with Kennedy. Truitt had been close to Meyer during this period and had received a considerable amount of information about the relationship. (8)

Ben Bradlee, who had gone on holiday with his new wife, Sally Quinn, gave orders for the Washington Post to ignore the story. However, Harry Rosenfeld, a senior figure at the newspaper, commented, "We're not going to treat ourselves more kindly than we treat others." (9) However, when the article was published it included several interviews with Kennedy's friends who denied he had an affair with Meyer. Kenneth O'Donnell described her as a "lovely lady" but denied that there had been a romance. Timothy Reardon claimed that "nothing like that ever happened at the White House with her or anyone else." (10)

 Mary Pinchot Meyer
Mary Pinchot Meyer in 1963

Ben Bradlee and James Jesus Angleton continued to deny the story. Some of Mary's friends knew that the two men were lying about the diary and some spoke anonymously to other newspapers and magazines. Later that month Time Magazine published an article on Truitt's story. (11) In an interview with Jay Gourley, Bradlee's former wife, and Mary's sister, Antoinette Pinchot Bradlee admitted that her sister had been having an affair with John F. Kennedy: "It was nothing to be ashamed of. I think Jackie might have suspected it, but she didn't know for sure." (12)

Bradlee's strategy of not answering questions from reporters eventually worked and the story disappeared from the newspapers. His next crisis came in 1979 when Deborah Davis published her book Katharine the Great: Katharine Graham and the Washington Post. Davis covered the murder of Mary Pinchot Meyer and commented on Bradlee being unwilling to talk about the matter. However, what really upset Bradlee was his involvement in Operation Mockingbird, the CIA's attempt to control the media. This threatened to destroy Bradlee's reputation as a fearless investigator of the truth. According to Davis, the articles on Watergate that appeared in the Washington Post was a CIA "limited hangout" operation.

In an interview Davis gave to Kenn Thomas of Steamshovel Press in 1992 she pointed out that it was Bradlee's work with United States Information Agency in Paris that was one of the causes of this anger. "It was the propaganda arm of the embassy. They produced propaganda that was then disseminated by the CIA all over Europe. They planted newspaper stories. They had a lot of reporters on their payrolls. They routinely would produce stories out of the embassy and give them to these reporters and they would appear in the papers in Europe... I published the first book just saying that he worked for USIE and that this agency produced propaganda for the CIA. He went totally crazy after the book came out. One person who knew him told me then that he was going all up and down the East Coast having lunch with every editor he could think of saying that it was not true, he did not produce any propaganda. And he attacked me viciously and he said that I had falsely accused him of being a CIA agent. And the reaction was totally out of proportion to what I had said." (13)

 Mary Pinchot Meyer
New Times (9th July, 1976)

As well as having conversations with other editors, Ben Bradlee, contacted William Jovanovich and threatened legal action against the publisher. Bradlee later admitted: "I wrote a letter to Davis's editor pointing out thirty-nine errors concerning the thirty-nine references to me." (14) Just six weeks after the book's release, over 20,000 copies were recalled and shredded even though it had already been nominated for an American Book Award. (15) As A. J. Liebling has pointed out, "freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one".

I am lucky enough to own one of the copies of Katharine the Great: Katharine Graham and the Washington Post that was published in 1979. I have checked the thirty-nine references to Bradlee in the book, and the vast majority of cases, the facts have been confirmed by the release of CIA documents and confessions of the people involved. This was substantiated when in 1987 Katharine the Great: Katharine Graham and the Washington Post was published by Zenith Press. As the publisher pointed out: "This new, much-expanded and updated edition includes every word of the original plus new material on the post-Watergate years as well as documentary proof of Ms. Davis's revelations about Post editor Ben Bradlee. Katharine the Great covers many of the major issues and characters of 20th century Washington. On a personal level, it includes the stark portrayal of the unravelling of Katharine's husband Phil and an intimate view of the heights of power to which America's most powerful woman has risen since Watergate." Despite the so-called "thirty-nine errors" Bradlee made no effort to sue Davis or the publisher.

It was Ben Bradlee himself who confirmed most of what Deborah Davis had said in his autobiography, A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures (1995). In the book he confessed that he had worked for Office of U.S. Information and Educational Exchange and had been involved in distributing CIA propaganda. He also admitted that Davis was right when she said that Robert Thayer, the CIA station chief in Paris, had paid him money to pay for travelling expenses. Bradlee described how "he (Thayer) reached nonchalantly into the bottom drawer of his desk and fished out enough francs to fly me to the moon." (16)

However, the most surprising confession was that he had lied during the trial of Raymond Crump, the man accused of killing Mary Pinchot Meyer. Bradlee admitted in the book that he had searched for Meyer's diary with James Jesus Angleton: "We (Bradlee and his wife) asked him (Angleton) how he'd gotten into the house, and he shuffled his feet. (Later, we learned that one of Jim's nicknames inside the agency was 'the Locksmith,' and that he was known as a man who could pick his way into any house in town.) We felt his presence was odd, to say the least, but took him at his word, and with him we searched Mary's house thoroughly. Without success. We found no diary. Later that day, we realized that we hadn't looked for the diary in Mary's studio, which was directly across a dead-end driveway from the garden behind our house. We had no key, but I got a few tools to remove the simple padlock, and we walked toward the studio, only to run into Jim Angleton again, this time actually in the process of picking the padlock. He would have been red-faced, if his face could have gotten red, and he left almost without a word. I unscrewed the hinge, and we entered the studio." (17) However, according to Ron Rosenbaum, when he interviewed Angleton, he described Bradlee as a liar and denied he had ever been in Mary's studio. (18)

Bradlee claims that his wife found the diary in a later search: "Much has been written about this diary-most of it wrong since its existence was first reported. Tony took it to our house, and we read it later that night. It was small (about 6" x 8") with fifty to sixty pages, most of them filled with paint swatches, and descriptions of how the colors were created and what they were created for. On a few pages, maybe ten in all, in the same handwriting but different pen, phrases described a love affair, and after reading only a few phrases it was clear that the lover had been the President of the United States, though his name was never mentioned. To say we were stunned doesn't begin to describe our reactions. Tony, especially, felt betrayed, both by Kennedy and by Mary." (19) It has been claimed that the Bradlee's also found love letters sent by Kennedy to Meyer and these were destroyed. (20)

The following day Antoinette Pinchot Bradlee gave the diary to Angleton and expected him to destroy it: "But it turned out that Angleton did not destroy the document, for whatever perverse, or perverted, reasons. We didn't learn this until some years later, when Tony asked him point blank how he had destroyed it. When he admitted he had not destroyed it, she demanded that he give it back, and when he did, she burned it, with a friend as witness. None of us has any idea what Angleton did with the diary while it was in his possession, nor why he failed to follow Mary and Tony's instructions." (21)

After the publication of his book, The Good Life (1995), Cicely d'Autremont Angleton and Anne Truitt wrote a letter to the New York Times Book Review to "correct what in our opinion is an error" in Bradlee's autobiography: "This error occurs in Mr. Bradlee's account of the discovery and disposition of Mary Pinchot Meyer's personal diary. The fact is that Mary Meyer asked Anne Truitt to make sure that in the event of anything happening to Mary while Anne was in Japan, James Angleton take this diary into his safekeeping. When she learned that Mary had been killed, Anne Truitt telephoned person-to-person from Tokyo for James Angleton. She found him at Mr. Bradlee's house, where Angleton and his wife, Cicely had been asked to come following the murder. In the phone call, relaying Mary Meyer's specific instructions, Anne T'ruitt told Angleton for the first time, that there was a diary; and in accordance with Mary Meyer's explicit request, Anne Truitt asked Angleton to search for and take charge of the diary." (22)

At the trial of Raymond Crump, the man accused of killing Mary Pinchot Meyer, Bradlee was the first witness called to the stand. Alfred L. Hantman, the chief prosecutor, asked him under oath, what he found when he searched Mary's studio. "Now besides the usual articles of Mrs. Meyer's avocation, did you find there any other articles of her personal property?" Bradlee replied that he found a pocketbook, keys, wallet, cosmetics, and pencils. He did not tell the court that he found a diary that he had passed on to James Jesus Angleton. (23) In fact, Bradlee had committed a very important crime of joining with Angleton in the destruction of evidence relevant in a murder case. Strange behaviour from the man President Barack Obama said "set a standard for honest, objective, meticulous reporting".

On 2nd December, 2011, The Washington Post published a letter from Angleton's children. They also questioned the account provided by Ben Bradlee: "Anne Truitt, a friend of Tony Bradlee and Bradlee's sister, Mary Meyer, was abroad when Meyer was killed in the District. Truitt called Bradlee and said that Meyer had asked her to request that Angleton retrieve mid burn certain pages of her diary if anything happened to her. James and Cicely Angleton were with Ben and Tony Bradlee at the Bradlees' home when Tony Bradlee received the call. Cicely, our mother, told her daughter Guru Sangat Khalsa, "We all went to Mary's house together." She said there was no break-in because the Bradlees had a key. The diary was not found at that time. Later, Tony Bradlee found it and gave it to James Angleton. He burned the pages that Meyer had asked to be burned and put the rest in a safe. Years later, he gave the rest of the diary to Bradlee at her request." (24)

Some researchers have questioned this account. Anne Truitt knew that Mary Pinchot Meyer was highly critical of the CIA covert activities. James Jesus Angleton would have been the last one Mary would have wanted to know about the diary. Peter Janney, the author of Mary's Mosaic (2012) has argued that his research into the case suggests that it is highly unlikely that the Angleton's children story is true: "Is it now to be believed not only that Mary Meyer entrusted the safekeeping of her diary to Jim Angleton, but that she had also specifically instructed him to 'burn certain pages of her diary if anything happened to her'? Nothing could be further from the truth... It is not known (nor likely ever will be) how Angleton twisted the arm of Anne Truitt to declare that on the night of Mary's murder she should call the Bradlees and inform them that such a diary existed and that Mary had told her to make sure Angleton took charge of it, should anything happen to her. The answer to the question of who called the Truitts in Tokyo to inform them of Mary's demise now becomes more obvious: It was Angleton himself." (25)

David Talbot has argued that Ben Bradlee's account in his book "left more unexplained than answered". Talbot interviewed Bradlee about this issue in 2004. "He denied that the diary contained any secrets about the CIA or other revealing information, beyond the passages about her romance with JFK." Bradlee was more interested in explaining the role of James Jesus Angleton. He claimed that his break-in was possibly connected to his amorous obsession with Mary Pinchot Meyer. "I thought Jim was just like a lot of men, who had a crush on Mary. Although the idea of him as a lover just stretches my imagination, especially for Mary, because she was an extremely attractive woman. And he was so weird! He looked odd, he was off in the clouds somewhere. He was always mulling over some conspiracy when he wasn't working on his orchids. It was hard to have a conversation with him. I bet there are still twelve copies of Mary's diary in the CIA somewhere." (26)

David Talbot also questions the way that Bradlee dealt with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He points out that Bradlee's lack of interest in the subject was investigated by Robert Blair Kaiser in an article in Rolling Stone. Kaiser points out that the The Washington Post failure to commit investigative resources to the case was "especially puzzling" because of the newspaper's "courageous handling of Watergate and the intimate friendship Bradlee had with President Kennedy." When he asked Bradlee to explain his lack of interest in the case, he replied "I've been up to my ass in lunatics... Unless you can find someone who wants to devote his life to the case, forget it." (27)

While researching his book, Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years (2007) David Talbot went to interview Bradlee about the assassination. Talbot told Bradlee that his research showed that on hearing of his brother's death, Robert F. Kennedy "immediately suspected the CIA and its henchmen in the Mafia and Cuban exile world." Talbot reports that Bradlee did not seem surprised: "Jesus, if it were your brother... I mean if I were Bobby, I would certainly have taken a look at that possibility... I've always wondered whether my reaction to all of that was not influenced by sort of a total distaste for the possibility that (Jack) had been assassinated by..." Talbot points out that he did not finish the sentence, but the rest was clear: "by his own government". (28)

The journalist, C. David Heymann, began writing a book that was eventually published as Georgetown Ladies' Social Club (2004). The book concerned the group of women that had been part of this group that existed in the 1950s and 1960s. This included Mary Pinchot Meyer. Heymann became interested in her death and in February, 2001, he requested an interview with Cord Meyer, who at the time, was himself dying of lymphoma. Heymann asked Meyer if he had told the truth in his book, Facing Reality: From World Federalism to the CIA (1980) when he said: "I was satisfied by the conclusions of the police investigation that Mary had been the victim of a sexually motivated assault by a single individual and that she had been killed in her struggle to escape." (29). Meyer replied: "My father died of a heart attack the same year Mary was killed, " he whispered. "It was a bad time." And what could he say about Mary Meyer? Who had committed such a heinous crime? "The same sons of bitches," he hissed, "that killed John F. Kennedy." (30)



(1) Robert G. Kaiser, The Washington Post (22nd October, 2014)

(2) The Daily Telegraph (22nd October, 2014)

(3) Christopher Reed, The Guardian (22nd October, 2014)

(4) Marilyn Berger, New York Times (22nd October, 2014)

(5) David Von Drehle, Time Magazine (21st October, 2014)

(6) Christopher Reed, The Guardian (22nd October, 2014)

(7) National Enquirer (23rd February, 1976)

(8) Nina Burleigh, A Very Private Woman (1998) page 286

(9) Howard Bray, The Pillars of the Post (1980) page 138

(10) Nina Burleigh, A Very Private Woman (1998) page 287

(11) Time Magazine (8th March, 1976)

(12) Nina Burleigh, A Very Private Woman (1998) page 288

(13) Kenn Thomas, Popular Alienation (1995) page 83

(14) Ben Bradlee, The Good Life (1995) page 138

(15) Peter Janney, Mary's Mosaic (2012) page 75

(16) Ben Bradlee, The Good Life (1995) page 138

(17) Ben Bradlee, The Good Life (1995) page 267

(18) Ron Rosenbaum and Phillip Nobile, New Times (9th July, 1976)

(19) Ben Bradlee, The Good Life (1995) page 268

(20) Bernie Ward and Granville Toogood, National Enquirer (2nd March, 1976)

(21) Ben Bradlee, The Good Life (1995) page 271

(22) Cicely d'Autremont Angleton and Anne Truitt, letter to the New York Times Book Review (5th November, 1995)

(23) Trial transcript (20th July, 1965) page 47

(24) Letter to The Washington Post (2nd December, 2011)

(25) Peter Janney, Mary's Mosaic (2012) page 79

(26) David Talbot, Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years (2007) page 203

(27) Robert Blair Kaiser, Rolling Stone (24th April, 1975)

(28) David Talbot, Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years (2007) page 391

(29) Cord Meyer, Facing Reality: From World Federalism to the CIA (1980) page 34

(30) C. David Heymann, Georgetown Ladies' Social Club (2004) page 168

Previous Posts

Ben Bradlee and the Death of Mary Pinchot Meyer (29th October, 2014)

Yuri Nosenko and the Warren Report (15th October, 2014)

The KGB and Martin Luther King (2nd October, 2014)

The Death of Tomás Harris (24th September, 2014)

Simulations in the Classroom (1st September, 2014)

The KGB and the JFK Assassination (21st August, 2014)

West Ham United and the First World War (4th August, 2014)

The First World War and the War Propaganda Bureau (28th July, 2014)

Interpretations in History (8th July, 2014)

Alger Hiss was not framed by the FBI (17th June, 2014)

Google, Bing and Operation Mockingbird: Part 2 (14th June, 2014)

Google, Bing and Operation Mockingbird: The CIA and Search-Engine Results (10th June, 2014)

The Student as Teacher (7th June, 2014)

Is Wikipedia under the control of political extremists? (23rd May, 2014)

Why MI5 did not want you to know about Ernest Holloway Oldham (6th May, 2014)

The Strange Death of Lev Sedov (16th April, 2014)

Why we will never discover who killed John F. Kennedy (27th March, 2014)

The KGB planned to groom Michael Straight to become President of the United States (20th March, 2014)

The Allied Plot to Kill Lenin (7th March, 2014)

Was Rasputin murdered by MI6? (24th February 2014)

Winston Churchill and Chemical Weapons (11th February, 2014)

Pete Seeger and the Media (1st February 2014)

Should history teachers use Blackadder in the classroom? (15th January 2014)

Why did the intelligence services murder Dr. Stephen Ward? (8th January 2014)

Solomon Northup and 12 Years a Slave (4th January 2014)

The Angel of Auschwitz (6th December 2013)

The Death of John F. Kennedy (23rd November 2013)

Adolf Hitler and Women (22nd November 2013)

New Evidence in the Geli Raubal Case (10th November 2013)

Murder Cases in the Classroom (6th November 2013)

Major Truman Smith and the Funding of Adolf Hitler (4th November 2013)

Unity Mitford and Adolf Hitler (30th October 2013)

Claud Cockburn and his fight against Appeasement (26th October 2013)

The Strange Case of William Wiseman (21st October 2013)

Robert Vansittart's Spy Network (17th October 2013)

British Newspaper Reporting of Appeasement and Nazi Germany (14th October 2013)

Paul Dacre, The Daily Mail and Fascism (12th October 2013)

Wallis Simpson and Nazi Germany (11th October 2013)

The Activities of MI5 (9th October 2013)

The Right Club and the Second World War (6th October 2013)

What did Paul Dacre's father do in the war? (4th October 2013)

Ralph Miliband and Lord Rothermere (2nd October 2013)