An analysis of key factors and events in Graham’s remarkable transition from acquiescent wife and mother to stalwart CEO of the Washington Post.
It’s easy enough in retrospect to say a person was a born leader, as Gerber (Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way, 2002) does of Katharine Graham (1917–2001). But there’s a twist in the story of the late principal owner and publisher of the Post: She may indeed have been born to wealth and position, but after 23 years of fulfilling the ultimate ’40s debutante role of social paragon and consort to her sometimes abusive husband, Philip, who preceded her as head of the newspaper her father had bought and rejuvenated, she had to be, as the author asserts, born again. In 1963, Philip Graham, having sunk deeper into what was suspected to be bipolar disorder complicated by alcoholism, committed suicide. It was at this point, Gerber stresses, that Graham’s true character emerged and, instead of selling the newspaper as even her closest friends and associates urged, she made the decision to take on her husband’s role and build a profitable media business fully consistent with her father’s inculcated vision of journalism adhering to the highest standards of public service. Much of the story will be reiterative to readers of Graham’s 1997 autobiography—the initial sniping by male associates and media critics, the tension of remolding the staff by bringing in outsider Ben Bradlee as managing editor, the high drama of knowingly defying Presidents Johnson and Nixon, respectively, in publishing the Pentagon Papers (after a prohibitive court injunction had been issued) and then doggedly pursuing Watergate. Gerber’s rendition, however, provides additional insights into the evolution of Graham’s management methodology, particularly regarding key consultations that preceded tough decisions she inevitably made on her own.
Calculatingly inspirational while avoiding treacle.