Don Swaim, 11/27/06.
ED BRADLEY AND ME. With all the coverage of Ed Bradley's death, I have two tales to add. They date to the late 60s, early 70s, after Ed joined WCBS from Philadelphia as a staff reporter. Ed wasn't always easy to work with. He tended to argue over the nature of his assignments, and those of us who worked the desk were often intimidated.
One deadly Christmas day I assigned Ed to a holiday story at the Rikers Island prison on the lonely Christmas the inmates experienced, including their measly little gift packages contributed by some donor.
He argued. "What kind of dumb story is that?"
"It's Christmas day, Ed," I said. "Not a lot to choose from."
"Find someone else to cover it."
There was no one else. We had but one street reporter and Ed Bradley was it.
He argued and argued. Finally, my shift was over, I went home. Screw it. No, it wasn't the greatest story in the world, but on that morning, on that Christmas day, it was just about the only one.
Ed covered it. I listened to his report on my radio from the Upper West Side. It was brilliant. Ed contrasted the bleak prison walls with the stingy, but friendly, Christmas packages the inmates eagerly opened. Just as I had hoped.
Ed did a beautiful job Ed -- and this was before he went to Paris to work at the CBS News Bureau, which leads me to my next story.
Not having been in Paris before I decided to phone Bradley and invite him for a drink.
I walked into a French bistro with its elongated bar and asked the bartender for directions to the pay phone. My intention was to phone Ed, (whose number I got before I left New York). I had all the various French coinage in my pocket, but when I tried to insert the coins the pay phone resisted them all. Finally, I resorted to stuffing a large coin into one of the slots. Didn't fit, of course, and after I jammed it in, I couldn't extract it. Really screwed up the phone. And good.
I left the booth and sheepishly told the bartender I thought the phone was broken.
"You need, maybe, a token?" he suggested to me in broken English.
At that moment I realized that Parisian pay phones used tokens, not actual coins. And because I jammed in a coin, wrecking the phone, I missed not having a drink with Ed Bradley in Paris. Dumb, dumb.
There's more, including the time that, while at WCBS, Ed became personally involved while covering an apparently rich, but psychotic, young man (later a suicide), who was so drug-fueled he literally appeared to be throwing his fortune away. Ed accompanied this wacko on a charter plane to the Caribbean. Big story at the time, especially as the kid's credibility, and bank account, fell apart. WCBS management took Ed off the story.
Ed Bradley could be difficult , but was a great guy -- hey, I tried to phone him Paris to meet for drinks before he became famous. Well, that's all I know.