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 journalism.

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 American woman.

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 company.

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.

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