June 16, 1917- July 17, 2001
Newspaper publisher. Ran The Washington Post Co. from 1963 to the 1990s,
steering the newspaper through the Pentagon Papers and Watergate sagas to
national prominence, and in the process becoming one of the titans of American
Her father, Eugene Meyer, bought The Post at a
bankruptcy sale in 1933.
Later, Graham's husband Philip ran the paper (then just a minor
Washington, D.C. daily)
for 16 years before he committed suicide in 1963. At that time, Graham took
over, stepping into a position of authority largely unprecedented for an
In 1971 she decided that the paper would publish the top-secret Pentagon
Papers, which described American involvement in the Vietnam War. The
following year, she stood by her reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as
they began to publish their
investigative work into the Watergate break-in. This story would earn The Post
a Pulitzer Prize for public service, reveal corruption at the highest levels
of government, and ultimately bring down Richard M. Nixon.
Her breaking of a pressmen's union strike in 1975 resulted in a dramatic
increase in the paper's profitability and a dramatic decrease in the power
of pressmen's unions at newspapers across the country. (In the coverage I've
seen of this, the union was making unreasonable demands and fudging work
reports to require twice as many workers as were actually needed.)
Although she was a hard person to read and could frighten her employees, she was
beloved by reporters for her trust in them, her willingness to give
them freedom and then go to the wall for them if need be. Her willingness to
stand up to attempts at government intimidation earned her the admiration
of fellow journalists, the public, and often the would-be intimidators themselves.
Especially in the early years, she endured skepticism, both from herself and
others, about her ability to do her job. Robert G. Kaiser of The Post says this:
"Katharine Graham, business executive, was always an ambivalent
personage, in part because she battled for years with her intuitive
sense that women didn't belong in the boardroom. Amazingly, in 1969,
six years after she took over The Post, she told an interviewer: 'In
the world today, men are more able than women at executive work. . .
I think a man would be better at this job I'm in than a woman.' "
She must have come to doubt this, though, both because of her own courageous
and shrewd decisions and because under Graham's stewardship, the Post's
staff included an increasing number of able female journalists.
In 1979 her son Donald Graham became the publisher of the newspaper,
while Katharine Graham retained her roles as Chairman of the Board and
CEO of The Washington Post Co. (which had come to include magazine and
other multimedia holdings). In the early 1990s, Donald assumed those
roles as well, though his mother retained an official position with the
In 1997, Graham published her autobiography, Personal History, which went
on to win the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for biography.
She died this week of injuries sustained in a fall. The New York Times
op/ed page says this: "It is in newsrooms throughout the
nation that her legacy will find its living expression for generations
of publishers and editors who can draw inspiration from her example of
journalistic integrity and persistence in the face of government
mendacity and intimidation." Newspapers around the nation paid similar
heartfelt tributes to this idiosyncratic woman with a backbone
of steel who altered the face of American journalism.
Much of this research is from today's edition of The Washington Post;
all direct quotations are attributed.