The accolades and tributes poured in fast and furious when the news hit that CBS Minutes living legend Ed Bradley had passed. But the thing that struck me about most of them was that they read and sounded like canned platitudes. They pretty much followed the same script. They justly lauded Bradley's colossal news accomplishments, listed the piles of awards he received, and hailed him for the giant role he played as mentor, role model and inspirational father figure to successive waves of black journalists and newspersons. President Bush, for instance, expressed the obligatory sadness over Bradley's death, and gave the equally obligatory tout of him as one of the most accomplished journalists of our times.
But Bush and the others that paid tribute to him only reaffirmed Bradley as a news icon. It didn't say much about the real Ed Bradley that lay beneath the icon pedestal. Fortunately, I had a chance to see that Ed Bradley. It happened in L.A. in 1998. And it didn't come from the weekly glimpse the nation got of him in front of the camera or in the stern faced, go for the jugular interviews that he did with any and everyone of news importance during the past decade. It came off camera, and it was the simple kindness he showed to a guest and a personal expression of appreciation that he showed to me that revealed the real Ed Bradley.
Bradley and 60 Minutes had gotten wind of a story that had tugged at the heartstrings of the nation. That was the heinous and tormenting rape and murder of a 7-year-old African-American girl Sherrice Iverson at a Nevada casino by a white teen, Jeremy Strohmeyer. The murder stirred even greater furor when Strohmeyer's friend, David Cash, who was at the scene, cavalierly admitted in an interview that he had knowledge of the murder but said and did nothing about it. That touched off a nationwide campaign by Sherrice's mother, Yolanda Manuel, to have Cash prosecuted as an accessory.
I had become deeply involved in the case. I assisted Ms. Manuel with the barrage of interviews, press conferences, and rallies that were held demanding the prosecution of the young man. The producers at 60 Minutes made it clear that they regarded the story as more than a story. It was a human tragedy and they wanted to make sure that that dimension came through in their piece.
The day before the scheduled interview, a 60 Minutes producer implored me to come to the taping with Ms. Manuel. I knew that Bradley would do the interview with her, and that was enough. I knew I had to be there. I was pleasantly surprised when the producer suggested that Bradley was interested in getting a copy of my most recent book, The Crisis in Black and Black.
When he entered the small room that had been hastily made into a makeshift studio at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, he smiled broadly and thanked me for the book. He thumbed through it slowly, and with that trademark pensive look, slowly and assuredly said that he looked forward to reading it. His warmth, sincerity, and appreciation bowled me over. Ed Bradley treated me as a peer and even friend.
Bradley's sincerity and warmth was on full display during and after the interview with Ms. Manuel. There was the gentle, empathetic tone in his voice when he talked to her, and the soft expression on his face. It was clear that he didn't consider her and the case just another news story. She was a real person to him, a mother that had suffered a traumatic loss. Bradley shared her pain.
When the interview ended he held her hand for a brief moment, and expressed his sorrow over the tragedy. He lingered for a long moment, then smiled at me, warmly shaked my hand and encouraged us to stay strong. He then slowly departed. The segment as we expected was every bit the probing, in-depth, news piece we expected. But more importantly, it was tinged with an uncharacteristic touch of self-righteousness, even indignation that strayed past the bounds of what's considered an objective report piece. That was vintage Ed Bradley, and we deeply appreciated that.
But it was Bradley's simple gesture of kindness off camera that meant much the most to Ms. Manuel and me. It told us that this was a man that really cared. This was a man that was more than a consummate professional. This was a man that was a consummate human being. That's the Ed Bradley that I will always remember and revere.
New America Media Associate Editor Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a political analyst and social issues commentator, and the author of The Emerging Black GOP Majority (Middle Passage Press, September 2006), a hard-hitting look at Bush and The GOP's court of black voters.