Ben Bagdikian mourned as 'a major figure' US journalism

AP News
|
Posted: Mar 12, 2016 1:31 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Tributes and remembrances for Ben H. Bagdikian came flooding in Saturday following the death of the renowned reporter and media critic who was a passionate voice for journalistic integrity.

"Ben was a major figure in 20th century U.S. journalism and journalism education, and we're all his beneficiaries," wrote Dean Edward Wasserman of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

Bagdikian, who helped publish the Pentagon Papers and wrote the groundbreaking book "The Media Monopoly," died Friday morning at his home in Berkeley, California, said his wife, Marlene Griffith Bagdikian.

Facebook was filled with former colleagues and students mourning the loss, including Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, who had this comment: "Ben was a wonderful man. All of us who loved him have to step up our decency now."

Bagdikian's five-decade career in journalism included covering the civil rights struggle in America and riding with an Israeli tank crew during the Suez crisis.

In 1953, he and other reporters on the Providence Journal in Rhode Island shared a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of a bank robbery and police chase. He also held a Peabody Award for broadcast commentary.

In the 1970s, while serving as ombudsman for the Washington Post, he posed as a convicted murderer to get inside a Pennsylvania maximum-security prison for articles about problems and abuses in the prison system.

Bagdikian once said he had spent most of his career "exposing the neglected suffering of others."

In the 1970s, he obtained the Pentagon Papers — a secret history of U.S. strategy and involvement in Vietnam — for the Washington Post from leaker Daniel Ellsberg. Published revelations in the Post and the New York Times helped bolster opposition to the Vietnam War.

"When you were confronted by a publisher who was scared, or had turned hostile, or a powerful institution that wanted to squash you, Ben would volunteer without hesitation to stand shoulder to shoulder with you. His example lives on," wrote UC Berkeley professor Lowell Bergman.

In 1976 Bagdikian joined the journalism faculty at the UC Berkeley. He later became dean of the graduate school of journalism, retiring in 1990.

Bagdikian perhaps was best-known for his media commentary and criticism. In 1983, he published "The Media Monopoly," which criticized the impact on journalism of mergers that were consolidating broadcast outlets and newspapers in the hands of giant corporations.

It went through numerous editions, including a 2004 update in which Bagdikian declared that a handful of corporations now had more control of communications "than was exercised by any despot or dictatorship in history."

"That book, and its subsequent editions, re-energized a whole tradition of critical coverage of the media business," Wasserman wrote. "It inspired a generation of journalists and progressive scholars to look with fresh interest at the chilling consequences of concentrated corporate control of news and entertainment."

___

Associated Press writer Robert Jablon contributed to this report.