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Remembering Katharine Graham

Aired July 23, 2001 - 10:00   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We are here live at the National Cathedral in Washington for the funeral of one of the most influential American women of the last century. Katharine Graham, who died last Tuesday at the age of 84, was one of the greatest newspaper publishers of our time.

Hello, I'm Judy Woodruff, and welcome to a special hour remembering Katharine Graham. Her funeral services begin one hour from now, at 11:00 Eastern time. We will bring it to you live.

Mrs. Graham was not a household name across the country, not known to so many, but she was well-known to the powerful in government, business, Hollywood and the media. She is the person whose stewardship raised "The Washington Post" to one of the most powerful and independent institutions in this country. Other than former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who died in 1994, seven years ago, and had a private funeral in New York City, no other American woman in modern memory was remembered in death as Katharine Graham is being remembered now.

And I just want to say at the outset that I have some personal difficulty with this assignment because I knew Katharine Graham. For the last dozen or more years, she has been very supportive of me, professionally and personally, and I am, along with so many others, deeply saddened by her death. She was a mentor to me and so many other women.

Katharine Graham was a millionaire's daughter, a blue blood who could have easily cultivated the life of a socialite. But in the highest compliment bestowed among news people, Graham is remembered as someone who had newspaper ink running through her veins.

CNN's Bruce Morton looks at a life rich in passion and purpose.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Katharine Graham was born in 1917. Her high school yearbook predicted: "Kay's a big shot in the newspaper racket." But it wasn't that simple. She was a rich girl, but not a spoiled one.

KATHARINE GRAHAM, "THE WASHINGTON POST": The word money was never mentioned. We had fewer possessions or clothes than other people, and much was expected of us. MORTON: She did newspaper work, but when she married, her father gave control of "The Washington Post" to her husband, Philip, because, he said, "no man should be in the position of working for his wife." She became, she said, a doormat wife, tail to his kite. But Philip was manic depressive and, in 1963, while undergoing therapy, he killed himself.

GRAHAM: He got them to give him a day off, which there was a lot of argument about, a lot of sensitivity about, but finally he got the day off, and we went down to the country and that's where he killed himself.

MORTON: The business went to Katharine.

GRAHAM: I didn't want to run it because I didn't think I could. I really knew that I owned the controlling shares and that, therefore, responsibly, I should try to learn about it.

MORTON: She learned. "The Washington Post," she said, should serve its readers, not private interests. The newspaper shall not be an ally of any special interests, but shall be free and fair in its outlook on public affairs and public men. She hired gifted people like editor Ben Bradlee, and backed them.

BEN BRADLEE, "THE WASHINGTON POST": She set out on such a difficult voyage, to take command of this newspaper under the circumstances involved in her husband's death when she had no training for it. She learned very well and very fast, and she learned the way that the rest of us learned, by making mistakes and not being scared of saying so.

MORTON: She succeeded on the business side, expanding, adding radio and TV interests; succeeded editorially by being tough. Courts stopped "The New York Times" after it published one part of the Pentagon Papers, a classified study of the Vietnam War. "The Post" then published more.

GRAHAM: The lawyers were telling us not to. The business people were very hesitant, and the editorial people were desperate to publish.

MORTON: She published. The Supreme Court ruled for the newspapers, not the government. And then Watergate, the scandal which eventually forced Richard Nixon to resign the presidency. "The Post" broke a lot of those stories, ensuring its own place in history.

GRAHAM: I used to go down there and say, are we being sure we're being fair, we're being accurate? Are we sure we're not being misled so somebody can cut us off at the knees? And Ben's answers were very good to that.

MORTON: "The Post" became one of America's most powerful papers, mentioned in the same breath as "The New York Times." Katharine Graham became one of Washington's stars, friend of presidents and celebrities. She turned control of "The Post" company over to her son, Donald, in 1993. She remained a Washington legend. Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


WOODRUFF: And Bruce Morton joins me now at the south entrance of the National Cathedral. Bruce, you and I have been watching as some of the famous and the mighty of American journalism and American political life have been arriving here at the cathedral. They're expecting about 4,000 people. We've already seen Ben Bradlee, the long-time "Washington Post" executive editor who worked so closely with Mrs. Graham during Watergate; Carl Bernstein, one of the two shoe-leather reporters who, along with Bob Woodward, broke the story of Watergate. Here's a picture of Ben Bradlee and there is Carl Bernstein, no longer at "The Post," but still very close to this enormous institution of a newspaper.

Bruce, let's talk for a moment about Watergate and what it -- it really made "The Post" into the national institution that it is today.

MORTON: I think the Pentagon Papers was the start because "The Post" was up there with "The New York Times" saying, well, the courts have told them not to publish, we will. But they then you get to Watergate, which started really insignificantly. Ron Ziegler, Richard Nixon's press secretary back then, called it a third-rate burglary, and it was, for a while.

But things kept happening. Woodward and Bernstein got hints, follow the money. It turned out the burglars had been paid with Nixon campaign funds, and the story, every time it threatened to die, just took off. We learned there were White House tapes of Nixon conversations talking about the cover-up, and eventually, of course, Watergate -- not "The Post" all by itself, there were lots of news media on this -- but "The Post," in a very pioneering way, brought down this president. Richard Nixon had to resign to avoid impeachment, and "The Post" all of a sudden was up there with "The Times," with anybody, and when you talked about the great newspapers of America, "The Post" always on the list.

And maybe, even more than that, people liked reporters. People thought what "The Post" had done, exposing lies by the government, was good stuff and made a movie about it. People said, what profession do you like? Reporters were a lot higher on the list then than we are today.

WOODRUFF: Indeed, and as Bruce and I are talking, again, here at the south entrance of Washington's National Cathedral, VIPs arriving. Just behind us, former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger stepping out of his car. We mentioned earlier there are giants of business. Bill Gates is one of the ushers here today. Warren Buffett, the investor, is also an usher.

Katharine Graham moved in, you could say, rarefied circles, Bruce, but as we'll be talking about a little later, she also knew so many just ordinary folk, and that's why they expect this cathedral to be packed. MORTON: If you wanted to define power structure, you could just keep a camera on the folks turning up at this entrance. As you said, it's the politically powerfully people, the journalistically powerful people.

WOODRUFF: Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright walks in. She, of course, followed Secretary of State Larry Eagleburger.

MORTON: This is the establishment. That's a phrase everybody uses all the time. If you want a picture of it, it's right here.

WOODRUFF: Katharine Graham, there was much said about here as a Washington hostess, but I think it went deeper than that. She was the person the White House called back in February -- January, February -- to say, would you host a dinner, a welcome to Washington dinner for President George W. Bush. It was considered something that this president should do.

MORTON: She knew all the presidents. If you look at the invitation, well, there's a Democratic senator, there's a Republican senator. This was a very bipartisan celebrity in that sense. She had friends everywhere. She had friends in both parties. She's known every president since Lyndon Johnson, I suppose, pretty well.

WOODRUFF: Well, her father worked in the administration of his predecessor, John Kennedy, if I'm not mistaken. She knew -- she knew these people, she knew the people around them. And you're right, Bruce, about the bipartisanship of it. Henry Kissinger is going to be delivering one of the eulogies today. Of course, he was so well-known as secretary of state during the Nixon administration, Arthur Schlesinger.

MORTON: The homily is John Danforth, a Republican senator who is a Baptist minister.

WOODRUFF: That's right and Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the famous historian, who is very close to Kennedy family, and I don't think you call him a Republican.

MORTON: Not me, no. Nor you I expect.

WOODRUFF: We've been -- we've been talking about today's service, and as we said, it is due to get under way in a little under an hour from now, The Graham family will deliver tributes. Don Graham, no doubt, will lead off; the older son and now chairman of "The Washington Post" company. As We mentioned, Henry Kissinger, historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. along with Ben Bradlee, someone we just saw going into the cathedral, who's the vice president and former executive editor of "The Washington Post."

The program, we're told, will last about 75 minutes. It will include a performance by the renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma. There will be a recitation of the Lord's Prayer, the singing of "America the Beautiful."

Now, here are some of the notables. We want to give you some of the names, people in business and politics who are going to be taking part in this morning's service. Microsoft co-founder and chairman Bill Gates is among the ushers, along with Hollywood director and producer Mike Nichols; Wall Street wizard Warren Buffet; the financier Herbert Allen, at whose conference Ms. Graham was when she fell and became unconscious and did not recover; broadcast journalist Barbara Walters -- will also serve as ushers. They'll be joined by PBS news anchor Jim Lehrer, fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, television journalist Diane Sawyer of ABC and "Washington Post" Watergate reporter Bob Woodward.

Included among the pallbearers: former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, whom we saw arriving here just about an hour ago; broadcast executive Barry Diller; attorney Vernon Jordan, who was very close to President Clinton; and Mrs. Graham's brother-in-law, Senator Bob Graham of Florida -- Bob Graham being the younger half-brother of her late husband Philip Graham.

And now we want to tell you -- we've been showing you the south side of this cathedral -- but it is at the front entrance, the west side of the cathedral, where so many of the people are arriving here.

CNN's Candy Crowley has been there watching as people stream in -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Judy, I talked to a couple of young men, high school graduates this past June, who arrived outside these gates at 4:30 this morning. And I asked them why. And they said: "Well, we just thought it was important to be here. We grew up in this area. We know the 'Washington Post.'" And they said, "We do this sort of thing."

The last time they went to something historical, as they said, was the Supreme Court decision on the Florida case between George Bush and Al Gore. So the mood here really is not so much funereal as it is sort of a sense of importance among the public. We saw a number of faces that we recognized -- the "Washington Post," most of the staff is here -- and gathered around 9:00. The doors just opened a little while ago.

The public, as I say, has been there since about 4:30 -- several hundred -- they're still filing in here to the right of me -- going in to try and find one of those seats. We're told, as you mentioned, that it seats about 500 people.

Beyond the family, of course, no one is hit harder by the loss of Katharine Graham than those at the "Washington Post." The flag has been flying at half-staff down there. This was a woman who really made the "Washington Post," who oversaw the making of the "Washington Post." And her presence is still felt there today, as Bruce reported. She took it from this sort of country newspaper and made it into, really, a world journalistic power, up with there with "The New York Times" and others.

So a lot of people here get that sense that it's not just that she is a Washington fixture, but that she played a part on the national scene. We are seeing, of course, the dignitaries coming in: Ben Bradlee, executive at the "Washington Post," brought on by Katharine Graham, overseeing the Watergate, the Pentagon Papers and things like that.

The security here of course is very tight. We are expecting former President Clinton and Mrs. Clinton and other dignitaries. Early in the morning, they had the dogs out sniffing. We have seen security and agents throughout our couple of hours stay here.

Right now, again, we're watching. On the one side of Washington's National Cathedral, we have the dignitaries who are coming in. And then in the front side of the cathedral, right now that's what you are watching. You saw David Broder, a columnist for the "Washington Post," going in. So they're still filing in from this side.

Many of them have been here for an hour or so. Among those that we chatted with in the crowd: former CNN'er Bernie Shaw, who, of course, Judy as you know, knew Katharine Graham. He was here with the owner of the Redskins, Dan Snyder, along with others who we were spotting in the crowd.

Again, most of them out here have been not faces that anyone outside of Washington would recognize, but some recognizable faces for us -- and beyond that, a lot of people who say: No, I didn't know Katharine Graham, but I know what she did and I wanted to be here.

WOODRUFF: Candy, as we've been talking to you -- as we've been listening to you and watching people coming in the south entrance, we are seeing, as you mentioned, people in the media, the familiar network anchor faces: Tom Brokaw of NBC; Ted Koppel of ABC's "Nightline."

We know -- I see Al Neuharth there, who was the founder of "USA Today," the newspaper. I mean, her friendships reached far and wide.

And I mentioned earlier, there are two prominent woman who are among the ushers -- women in journalism -- Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer. I think we ought to talk about her effect on women. I mentioned a little earlier, I considered her a mentor. And I know that so many other women did.

There was a fascinating story in the "Post" the other day by writer Bob Kaiser, an editor, quoting -- citing an incident back in 1984 at the Democratic Convention when "Washington Post" reporter -- budding reporter Maralee Schwartz -- who was just being moved into political reporting -- had written a column and was worried sick that the political editors were going to dislike it.

And she said she ran into Mrs. Graham, who told her: "Don't worry. There aren't any men out there worrying about what they've written. You know, it's just like a woman. We've got to stop this."

Let's see.

CROWLEY: You know, Judy, one of the things I will tell you, I didn't know Katharine Graham as you did. But she is the first woman journalist that I knew of that was in a position of power. It's the first name I knew that was a very powerful women's journalistic position.

She has been up there with that ink running through her veins, as you said, and really has been one of those people that you sort of looked to and thought: Wow. Just her presence of being there in that echelon of journalism was something that meant a great deal to women who were struggling when she came on.

One of the things that I read was that, when she first took over the "Post," they had a help-wanted men and a help-wanted women's section. So times have changed.

WOODRUFF: Candy, we are seeing the wife of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Nan Annan. She has just arrived here at the south entrance -- and joining her: Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and his wife, Sharon Rockefeller.

This is literally a who's-who of Washington politics, journalism, media. And I think, as we mentioned a little bit earlier, there's even some Hollywood involved. We know that shortly before Mrs. Graham collapsed out in Sun Valley, Idaho last week, she had just had lunch with Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson. So her friendships ranged far and wide.

You can see Senator Rockefeller there. And I think you saw Nan Annan, who is the wife of the United Nations secretary-general. I see coming up the walk Barry Diller, who is the chairman of the USA Networks, and Ken Burns, who is the well-known filmmaker of public broadcasting documentaries -- Bruce.

MORTON: One of the things about her -- you and Candy have talked about it a little -- is what a pioneer see was. We're used nowadays to women in positions of power: women in the Senate; women on the Supreme Court; 1963, when she took over the "Post," there was none of that.

And here was this woman totally untrained for this, doormat wife -- her description of herself -- the tail to her husband's kite. Her father had given her husband the paper, because no man, he said, should have to work for his wife. And Kay Graham agreed with that -- and just thrown into this. And she did marvelously.

On the business side, the company prospered. On the editorial side, Pulitzers rained down. And she was a first in all this. Succeeding generations could look and say: Well, I know a woman can do it.

WOODRUFF: Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, one of pioneers of the civil rights movement, arriving here at the National Cathedral.

You know, Bruce, what you say is exactly right. Her father, who bought the "Washington Post" -- and I think it was 1933, maybe...

MORTON: In there somewhere. WOODRUFF: Somewhere in there. She was 17 years old at the time. She said she didn't even know about it until after it happened. Her mother and father mentioned it casually one afternoon. And she said, "You did" -- "You bought the what?"


WOODRUFF: And she had already at that time been interested in newspaper. And it was after that, of course, that she become much more interested. She said later that her father always assumed that she would be a reporter -- they talked about reporting -- but never that she would be a manager. She was never trained for that.

MORTON: Well, she did a little reporting.

WOODRUFF: She did.

MORTON: She did the "San Francisco Examiner," I think it was, for a while -- and some here.

WOODRUFF: We've been talking about some of the people here. And we've been talking about the -- the effect that Katharine Graham had on broadcasting -- I mean, on journalism.

And we just want to tell you, broadcast legend Walter Cronkite himself -- who is a former newspaper man -- said the publisher has to be the moral force of the newspaper.

Well, as CNN's Garrick Utley shows us right now, Katharine Graham not only steered her newspaper toward greatness; she helped shape the direction of journalism.


GARRICK UTLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Watergate complex in Washington is now part of American folklore. In 1972, it was only the beginning of the drama that would shape the nation.

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward were two "Post" reporters who pursued the story.

CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST: We were two 28-year-old kids writing about the president of the United States and his men.

UTLEY: President Richard Nixon personally ordered his administration to pressure and threaten the "Post" to call off its investigation.

The movie "All the President's Men" portrayed a key moment, when Bernstein, played by Dustin Hoffman, told Nixon confidante John Mitchell that he had information that Mitchell, when he was attorney general, had authorized political spying on the Democrats.


JOHN RANDOLPH, ACTOR: You tell your publisher. Tell Katie Graham she's going to get her tit caught in a big ringer if that's published.


GRAHAM: Was I scared of what the administration could and did do to us? Of course, I was. They were attacking us daily and cutting off our White House sources. More ominous, some of the administration's friends and associates challenged our two Florida television station licenses, which were up for renewal.

UTLEY: Katharine Graham stood by her reporters and editors, knowing that the future of her newspaper and media company was on the line. At one point, she said, I'm going to jail, or they are. We know how the story ended.

(on camera): Except it didn't really end. Watergate left its legacy in Washington, in the nation, in newsrooms and reporting. Has it all been for the good?

BERNSTEIN: Many of the wrong lessons were drawn from Watergate. I think that part of what we call gotcha journalism today -- the idea that the function of a reporter is to catch an official in a lie, in a some kind of minor misfeasance -- is partly the result of Watergate.

UTLEY (voice-over): Perhaps that was only natural after the excitement of the story and the glamour of a Hollywood film showing Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman going up against a president. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to be an investigative reporter.

BERNSTEIN: There became a kind of cult of so-called investigative reporting. I don't even believe, and I doubt that Katharine Graham believed that there was some kind of pseudoscience called investigative reporting that's different that the rest of good reporting.

GRAHAM: I consider I had one of the great privileges of our profession: to be there in those times that were, perhaps, the best years for the news business.

UTLEY: The years when Katharine Graham made a difference as the publisher who stood behind the reporting.

Garrick Utley, CNN.


WOODRUFF: For a more in-depth look at the remarkable life of Katharine Graham and the impact she had on journalism, you can visit our Web site, at On the site, you can see how friends and colleagues pay tribute and remember the woman known as Kay. That's at

We're going to take a short break now from our coverage here at the cathedral and take a look at some other stories happening this hour. We'll be back, with more from the National Cathedral in Washington as we remember Katharine Graham throughout this hour.

The funeral begins at 11:00 a.m. Eastern. We will also bring that to you live, right here on CNN.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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