Katherine Graham

“Mrs. Graham’s imprint was the product both of her values, which suffused the paper, and of the crucial decisions she made about its leadership and direction.”

This is a line from Katharine Graham’s obituary, published in the Washington Post in July 2001. Clearly, Katharine Graham lived her life, and published her newspaper, with a level of integrity that defined her life and her career.

Katharine Graham was born in 1917. The child of a publisher and an educator, she graduated from the University of Chicago in 1938 and began her illustrious journalism career shortly thereafter working as a reporter for the San Francisco News. Mrs. Graham eventually found her way back to the Post, providing sustenance and support, and ultimately passionate leadership.

Mrs. Graham presided over one of the most influential newspaper of all time during one of the most politically tumultuous and ethically compromised eras of the modern age. She refused to buckle to politicians or presidents and stayed true to her integrity when faced with questions about what to publish. In fact, Katharine Graham made most of her decisions based on the notion that governments should not dictate what ought to be published. The Washington Post faced down the sitting president and Graham moved forward publishing the Pentagon Papers, and later, pursuing the Watergate investigation, against the advice of her legal team who feared the paper might be forced to shut down. But again, Mrs. Graham’s personal and professional integrity served as her beacon and dictated those business decisions. They proved to be the best decisions possible for her newspaper, and ultimately, the American people.

Katharine Graham assumed the leadership role of the Washington Post abruptly and unexpectedly when her husband died. She was not professionally prepared for such a role but allowed her personal values to dictate her professional decisions. That dignity and integrity served her well. Her insecurities about being in such a lofty role are well documented in her Pulitzer-Prize winning autobiography, “Personal History”. She became an iconic feminist hero by virtue of being the only female head of a Fortune 500 company for a number of years. And she had a good understanding of her role as a corporate professional female saying “The thing women must do to rise to power is to redefine their femininity. Once, power was considered a masculine attribute. In fact power has no sex.”

With passion and integrity, Graham bridged the gap between journalists, politicos, Washington socialites, and Washington Post rank and file. She provided consistent, values-driven leadership that helped transport an entire nation through bleak political times. Our national psyche took a beating during the post-Vietnam era, but the Washington Post was the steadying voice of reason and discovery that forced us all to examine our news gathering processes. With Katharine Graham at the helm, truth and integrity were the order of the day.

Executive Leader – Katherine Graham of the Washington Post:
Chairman of the Executive Committee from September 1993 until her 2001 death
Chairman of the Board from May 1973 to September 1993
CEO from May 1973 to May 1991
President from 1963 to 1973
Publisher from 1969 to 1979

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