“For many years I ended all my directives with the phrase “if it’s alright with you.” The Leadership Story of The Washington Post Editor-in-Chief Katharine Graham
Katharine Meyer Graham was born into a very wealthy family. Approximately in this vein, the story of her begins all the biographers. They formed a whole list of Meyers’ close friends. Among them are members of presidential dynasties and their entourage: John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan, as well as many others.
Her father, a financier and chairman of the Federal Reserve System, was friends with Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger, and her mother, a representative of the local bohemia, with Auguste Rodin, Marie Sklodowska-Curie, Thomas Mann, Albert Einstein.
Very often, this emphasizes how easy it was for Katharine Graham to become successful in adulthood. However, even as one of the important members of the Washington social scene, she has come a long way of struggle and overcoming.
“Kate is a big shot in newspaper business,” Katharine Graham’s classmates wrote in their graduation album, remembering her love of writing and creating stories. And she laughed out loud. She was always laughing – wanting to please the boys at school dances, trying not to look dull or boring, trying to mask her shyness.
Katharine Graham felt like an outcast, and classmates considered her smiling and successful. The graduate took note of this curious fact and tried to work on her confidence, as well as on the family attitudes that prevented her from communicating in college.
“I thought that normal nice people should be treated down, and only bright eccentrics should be liked,” Katharine Graham shared her memories in her autobiographical book Personal History. “It took me a long time to stop thinking that I should stand out, and that being a normal and ordinary person is bad. And then I learned to enjoy communicating with people who are just themselves.”
COURIER BY CHEVROLET
Katharine Graham wrote her first press story in the summer between high school and college. She began working at Mount Vernon Argus for free, commuting daily to the office in her first car, a convertible Chevrolet.
No, she was not a fast liver at all. The connections of her influential father in no way affected the success of Katharine Graham. And the golden rule of the family was the strictest economy.
The fear of making a mistake was perhaps the strongest for me. After every stupidity I committed, I heard the voice of my governess, saying through the years: “Onlooker, will you finally place these signs over the letters?”
“I still remember the telegram that my brother sent to my father from Vesser: “Pocket money in advance, or I am done for.” The father replied: “You are done.” The only conversations about money that I remember were around the fact that you can’t just inherit a lot of money – you need to do something, do something useful and productive; you can’t do nothing. And I’ve always worked.”
In 1933, her father purchased the bankrupt newspaper The Washington Post at auction. And from that moment on, Katharine wrote notes every summer and willingly took on any courier tasks from the editorial office.
“I read it every day, commented, praised and even criticized, and my parents, especially dad, told in detail what was happening in the editorial office and business. That’s how I became part of the struggle to bring the newspaper to a higher standard,” Katharine writes in her autobiography.
FIRST LADY OF PEN
30 years later, on September 20, 1963, Katharine Graham would become the elected president of the Washington Post Company. The day before, her husband, publisher Phil Graham, committed suicide by shooting himself with a revolver. She had to lead the publication in order to pass on the work of her life to her children. And she excelled in this role. Katharine Graham remembers how strong her excitement was. But she selflessly rushed to become the best in her position.
“I began to study management as hard as many other subjects. I think I was driving my environment into a frenzy by grabbing new things so actively, but I should have known more. I went to several different cities to see how newspapers work.”
Soon Graham could demonstrate how she has learned the standards of free journalism. On June 17, 1971, she made the difficult decision to publish classified US Department of Defense papers, known as the Pentagon Papers, in the newspaper. Among them are those related to military tasks in Vietnam and the difficult decisions associated with them.
Thus, despite the blackmail and the threat of the courts, the Washington Post at times raised its level of credibility, becoming a worthy competitor to the New York Times. And Katharine Graham began to unofficially be called the First Lady of the pen.
My professional progress was uneven – through failures to achievements. Sometimes I thought I had mastered the art of news writing. But even when the lyrics were successful, they still fell short of perfection.
By the way, based on these events in 2017, the film The Post was released, where the heroine of Katharine Graham was brilliantly played by actress Meryl Streep.
THE ROLE OF A WOMAN
Later, The Washington Post, led by Katharine Graham, played a key role in covering the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon and became the epitome of horror for all sitting presidents.
But most of all Graham’s efforts were made to equalize the rights of women and men in key positions in business.
“Women have traditionally suffered from an exaggerated desire to please,” Graham reflected. “This syndrome got so deep under the skin of women of my generation that it influenced my behavior for many years. At that time I did not understand yet what was happening, but I no longer knew how to make decisions that my environment would not like. For many years I ended all my directives with the phrase “If it is all right with you.” In those days, the dismissal of a man by a woman automatically meant that the woman was to blame.”
Katharine Graham fought for equal rights with men all her life. She refused to join clubs where women had not been invited before, and confidently canceled business dinners in restaurants where her female friends could not enter.
She described in detail how the roles of women have changed over time in the book of memoirs Personal History, published in 1997. Her words were so compelling, and her accomplishments so meaningful, that the book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize a year later.