Thomas Wardell Braden (February 22, 1917–April 3, 2009) was an American journalist, best remembered as the author of Eight is Enough, which spawned a popular television program, and was co-host of the CNN show Crossfire. Braden was born in Greene, Iowa, and died in Denver, Colorado.
Intelligence service in OSS and CIA
After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1940, Braden enlisted in the British Army, while the U.S. was still neutral in World War II and saw combat in Africa. When the United States entered the war, he was recruited by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the World War II predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and parachuted behind enemy lines into Nazi-occupied France. At the end of the war, with the encouragement of OSS director William “Wild Bill” Donovan, who thought of Braden as a protégé, he and his OSS paratrooper compatriot Stewart Alsop wrote a journalistic book about the OSS, just as it was being dissolved by Harry Truman, two years before the creation of the CIA.
After the war, Braden taught English for a time at Dartmouth (where he met Robert Frost), then moved to Washington, D.C., becoming part of a group of well-connected former OSS men, some of whom were journalists such the Alsop brothers, known as the Georgetown Set.
In 1950, at the start of the Korean War, Braden joined the CIA and in 1950 became head of the International Organizations Division (IOD) of CIA’s Office of Policy Coordination, the “covert action” arm of agency secret operations, working closely with Allen Dulles and Frank Wisner. Believing that the cultural milieu of postwar Europe at the time was favorable toward left-wing views, and understanding that The Establishment of Western Allies was rigidly conservative and nationalistic as well as determined to maintain their colonial dominions, it was estimated that American supremacy would be best served by supporting the Democratic left. Thus the program was begun by which more moderate and especially anti-Soviet leftists would be supported, thereby helping to purge the social democratic left of Soviet sympathizers.
Consequently, Braden’s efforts were guided toward promoting anti-Soviet left-wing elements in groups like AFL-CIO. Eventually, despite heavy resistance from British and French allies, the CIA made the leap toward recruiting disaffected anti-Soviet ex-communists, especially in the international labor unions. Thus, from 1951 to 1954, the CIA provided $1,000,000 a year, through Braden, to Irving Brown, a moderate Labor leader, and eventually recruited as a CIA officer Jay Lovestone, a noted former communist follower of Nikolai Bukharin (who had been executed by Stalin in 1938), helping him financially to run his network with $1,600,000 in 1954 (equivalent to approximately $14,051,053 in 2014 dollars).
These various programs eventually coalesced into a larger coordinated campaign to influence international organizations especially through media relations. In this regard, while head of the IOD, Braden played an important role in formally establishing this campaign as Operation Mockingbird. Many years later he revealed his role in these events:
- “If the director of CIA wanted to extend a present, say, to someone in Europe—a Labour leader—suppose he just thought, This man can use fifty thousand dollars, he’s working well and doing a good job—he could hand it to him and never have to account to anybody. . . . There was simply no limit to the money it could spend and no limit to the people it could hire and no limit to the activities it could decide were necessary to conduct the war—the secret war. . . . It was a multinational. Maybe it was one of the first. Journalists were a target, labor unions a particular target—that was one of the activities in which the communists spent the most money.”
After Ramparts, the flagship publication of the New Left, broke the story of this program in a 1967 article that exposed CIA involvement in groups like the National Student Association, Braden defended the agency’s covert work in the student and labor movements with an article titled “I’m glad the CIA is ‘immoral’” in The Saturday Evening Post. (Though intended to be a defense of the CIA, his revelations in that indelicately titled article raised the hackles of many of his old friends in the CIA.)
Politics, government, and journalism
Braden left the CIA in November 1954 and became owner of the Oceanside, California, newspaper The Blade-Tribune, which he bought with a loan from his friend Nelson Rockefeller. Active in California Democratic politics, he served as president of the California State Board of Education during the 1960s, and had a running battle with conservative Republican state superintendent of public instruction Max Rafferty.
Braden himself ran for office only once, mounting an unsuccessful primary challenge in 1966 (with the campaign theme “Guts”) to incumbent Democratic lieutenant governor Glenn Anderson.
After the assassination in Los Angeles of his friend Robert F. Kennedy during the 1968 presidential campaign, Braden returned to Washington and became a popular newspaper columnist in partnership with Kennedy’s press secretary, Frank Mankiewicz. He also became a prominent political commentator on radio and television.
In 1975 Braden published the autobiographical book Eight is Enough, which inspired an ABC television series of the same name with Dick Van Patten in the role of Tom Bradford, the name of Braden’s character in the series. The book focused on his life as the father of eight children and also touched on his political connections as a columnist and ex-CIA operative and as husband to a sometime State Department employee and companion of the Kennedy family, Joan Ridley Braden. The television series, however, bore little relationship to the book other than naming the original characters after the Braden family and giving the lead character a job in journalism.
After replacing Mankiewicz as the “voice from the left” on the syndicated radio show Confrontation, from 1978 to 1984 Braden co-hosted the Buchanan–Braden Program, a three-hour radio show with former Nixon aide Pat Buchanan. He and Buchanan also hosted the CNN program Crossfire at the show’s inception in 1982, with Braden interviewing guests and debating Buchanan and Robert Novak. Braden left Crossfire in 1989.
He was predeceased by his wife of 50 years, Joan Ridley Braden, who died in 1999. One of their sons, Thomas W. Braden III, a reporter on the Aspen Daily News and a specialist in the use of computers in investigative journalism, died in 1994 in a traffic accident near Gunnison, Colorado, at the age of 33. Survivors include seven children, David Braden of Taipei, Taiwan; Mary Braden Poole of Arlington, Virginia; Nicholas Braden of Washington, D.C,; Susan Braden of Takoma Park, Maryland; and Joannie Braden, Nancy Braden Basta, and Elizabeth Braden, all of Denver, Colorado, Braden also left 12 grandchildren.
Witty and charming, Joan Braden was a popular Washington hostess who also held a number of low-profile political and government positions. During John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign, she reportedly ghosted a weekly newspaper column, "Campaign Wife", for Jacqueline Kennedy, who could not understand the respect of her husband and brother-in-law, Robert F. Kennedy, for Braden's opinions. Later, Joan Braden worked as coordinator of consumer affairs in the State Department, a position created for her in 1976 while her friend Henry Kissinger was secretary of state. Among her other close friends were former ambassador Averell Harriman and CIA Director Richard Helms.
- Woo, Elaine (April 4, 2009). "Tom Braden dies at 92; former CIA operative became columnist and talk show co-host". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 4, 2009.
- "Tom Braden, author and co-host for 'Crossfire,' dies at 92". St. Paul Pioneer Press. April 4, 2009. Retrieved April 4, 2009.
- Stewart Alsop and Thomas Braden. Sub Rosa; the OSS and American Espionage (NY, 1946); with the aid of historian Richard Harris Smith, Braden later wrote a retrospect,“The Birth of the CIA,” American Heritage (28, no. 2, 1977)
- "Under the Beds of the Reds". Berman. March 28, 1999.
- Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2014. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
- "Les belles aventures de la CIA en France". Bakchich. January 8, 2008.
- Thomas Braden, interview included in the Granada Television program, World in Action: The Rise and Fall of the CIA. 1975.
- Braden, Thomas W. (May 20, 1967). "I'm glad the CIA is 'immoral.'". The Saturday Evening Post.
- "I'm Glad the CIA is 'Immoral'". Retrieved April 7, 2009.
- Pace, Eric (September 1, 1999). "Joan Braden Is Dead at 77; Hostess to a Capital Elite". The New York Times.
- Croddy, M. "Bringing The Bill Of Rights To The Classroom." Social Studies 82.6 (1991): 218. Academic Search Premier. Web. 14 Feb. 2013.
- Louis Liebovich. Richard Nixon, Watergate, and the press. Retrieved April 7, 2009.
- Stroud, Kandy (February 17, 1975). "The Bradens' Washington Salon: The Politics of Their Parties". New York Magazine. pp. 48+.
- "Grace and Power, the Private World of the Kennedy White House by Sally Bedell Smith, Random House, Inc., 2006, ISBN 0-345-48497-5, ISBN 978-0-345-48497-0, p.292". Sally Bedell Smith. 2006.
- Joan Braden and Thomas Braden, Oral History Interview, Kennedy Presidential Library, 1969