Stanley Crouch: Ed Bradley lived up to his high hopes
By Stanley Crouch -
Published 12:00 am PST Saturday, November 18, 2006
Story appeared in EDITORIALS section, Page B7
Ed Bradley died last week at age 65, and his passing drew a great deal of attention because he had been in the eye of the American public for a quarter-century. His work on "60 Minutes" made him one of the most highly regarded professionals in television. Both Bradley and the Sunday-evening show managed to maintain viewers while remaining separate from the medium's inclination to the superficial, the stupid and the overstated.
It was because of that separation that Bradley was so important in our time, which has come to distinguish itself by the descent into a vulgar combination of crude materialism supported by narcissistic self-obsession that would not have been imaginable when this black guy first kept turning up week after week. His extraordinary range of reporting was so rich in quality -- and the human depth that makes all quality possible -- that Bradley could not be dismissed as just another example of liberal guilt. He had been done no special favors because of his skin tone. Clearly, he was one of those superb individuals got where he was because of his talent and his belief in the possibility of upward mobility.
Bradley grew up impoverished in West Philadelphia and was told by one of his teachers at a Catholic school for the underprivileged that any one of the students in class could become whatever he wanted. He loved to point out that there he was, sitting and listening, having neither a pot to fill nor a window to throw it out of, but taking his teacher's word. He lived his life accordingly.
In our time, celebrity is almost always connected to wealth and popularity, not accomplishment. Bradley was fortunate to have grown up in an era that might have been much more overtly racist, but people of his caliber were not oppressed by the kind of mediocre dreams that come from the world of hip-hop and a mass culture in which one can be paid inordinate amounts of money for candid photographs taken of unknowing movie or pop-music stars.
Bradley benefited from the tough and unsentimental background that taught him there was a compensation for the fact that the world might not be fair and one might be cheated out of something he should win or something he should own. If one learned something, that information was his or hers for life. That could be why Bradley believed his teacher at Catholic school.
That belief led him to become a disc jockey, to report on the war in Vietnam from the ground, three years among the bullets, the grenades, the killed, the wounded, the maimed and the devastated countryside. Like all reporters who have bedded down in the mouth of death, Bradley understood the universals of courage, cowardice, competence and ineptitude. He learned that bullets and bad luck play no favorites in terms of color, religion, class or nationality.
That realization undergirded the quality that he brought to all that he did, as a professional and as a man in the world. The result is that he seemed to be as respected by a mass murderer like Timothy McVeigh as he was by Michael Jordan, perhaps the greatest athlete of his generation.
That was made possible by Bradley's upbringing, which supplied him with more than the paralytic cynicism of those who supposedly know all too well or all too much. He was also protected from the spiritual squalor, the ignorance and the putrid dreams of our debased popular culture.
Ed Bradley was a great individual, and whatever our culture does, it needs to nurture the cultural elements that fuel the drive of those who wish for more than a high position in the gutter.