Women’s History Month: Katharine Graham’s legacy continues on through Graham Media Group

Integrity, journalistic drive -- both of which Graham fiercely showed -- continues at GMG today

Washington Post owner Katharine Graham discusses her autobiography "Personal History," in her office. (Photo by Diana Walker/Getty Images) (Diana Walker, Getty Images)

If you’ve seen “The Post,” you’re one of the many who have had the pleasure of getting some insight into the life of Katharine Meyer Graham.

Of course, the movie has stellar actors, but it’s the story the movie tells -- the life of Katharine -- that we believe led to its Oscar nomination for best picture and one to highlight during Women’s History Month.

As a station that is part of the Graham Media Group family, it’s a proud part of our legacy. The Graham family still has ownership of Graham Media Group, which proudly runs TV stations across the country -- Detroit (WDIV-TV), Houston (KPRC-TV), San Antonio (KSAT-TV), Jacksonville (WJXT-TV/WCWJ-TV), Roanoke (WSLS-TV) and Orlando (WKMG-TV), which got its call letters from Katharine herself.

It's true that Katharine faced many challenges, but she rose above them, created a name for herself and, as many might say, forever changed history so that her influence still impacts our mission of journalistic integrity to this day.

The Washington Post was part of Katharine's life since she was a child, as her father bought it at a bankruptcy auction in 1933. As she grew, her father encouraged her to pursue her interest in journalism.

After working a stint at a paper in San Francisco, Katharine returned to Washington, D.C., and worked at the Post briefly before she married Philip Graham, who was a Supreme Court law clerk, on June 5, 1940.

Instead of handing the business down to Katharine when the time came, her father chose to give the majority of the family's stock to Philip, and Katharine said she thought nothing of it. However, when Philip committed suicide in 1963, Katharine, despite her insecurities, took over as president of the Washington Post Company.

“What I essentially did was to put one foot in front of the other, shut my eyes and step off the ledge. The surprise was that I landed on my feet.” -- Katharine Graham

Along with Ben Bradlee, whom Katharine hired to be the Post's managing editor in 1965, the two worked together to make the newspaper one of the country's best.

After she became publisher of the Washington Post in 1969, it was two years later when Katharine made the difficult and infamous decision to publish the classified Pentagon Papers, which delved into the history of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee leave U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on June 21, 1971, following a hearing on the newspaper's request to publish the Pentagon Papers, secret documents detailing America's war in Vietnam. (Getty Images)

Though the earliest stories of the Papers were first published by the New York Times, the Post picked them up and published them, despite being prohibited from publishing any additional stories. It caused the Post to face a threat of legal action and it joined the Times as a co-defendant when the case went to the Supreme Court. It was a decision Katharine did not take lightly, as her legal team feared it could destroy the company.

As it turns out, the decision was one that propelled the newspaper's national profile after a court ruled in Katharine's favor, supporting the freedom of the press and stating that the publication of the Pentagon Papers posed no risk to government security.

As if that wasn't enough to put her on the map, a couple years later, two reporters from the Washington Post uncovered alleged corruption within President Richard Nixon's administration. As they investigated, per Katharine's support, the Nixon administration disparaged the company. However, the Nixon tapes were eventually released and the president resigned.

“If we had failed to pursue the facts as far as they led, we would have denied the public any knowledge of an unprecedented scheme of political surveillance and sabotage.” -- Katharine Graham

"It was Katharine Graham who made the ultimate decision ... that proved so vital to preserving freedom of the press when a president was behaving criminally," said Amy Henderson, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery's historian emerita and curator of the "One Life: Katharine Graham" exhibit.

Not only did Katharine face and take head-on obviously tough journalistic decisions -- ones that made a mark in the press world -- but she also taught some important lessons.

It's no mystery that the era was a time filled with men in leadership positions, but as she spent time in her role, Katharine became more aware of women's problems in the workplace, too, and began to embrace the feminist movement.

According to biography.com, when women who worked at Newsweek, which Katharine’s company owned, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1970, she wondered which side she should take. She grew to support the women more, and in 1972, she was invited to a dinner at the Gridiron Club, which didn’t admit women at the time. She refused the invitation.

“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.” -- Katharine Graham

Later in her life, with so many stories to share, Katharine took the plunge and wrote a memoir, "Personal History." In 1998, the bestselling book's success led to Katharine being awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

| Read an excerpt from "Personal History" here |

Many business transactions were made with the newspaper, radio and, later, TV over the years. But in 2013, the Washington Post Company sold its newspaper to Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon.com, after having control over the newspaper for 80 years. However, the Graham family continued its ownership over Graham Media Group.

Katharine is not just a role model for those of us who work in the media, she's a glowing example that despite hardships, we make the right decision for the greater good. Her integrity and journalistic drive remain a part of the Graham Media Group company today, and we're proud that our employees continue to follow in her footsteps of exposing the truth with virtue.

“To love what you do and feel that it matters -- how could anything be more fun?” -- Katharine Graham

Learn more about Graham Media Group.

About the Author

Dawn Jorgenson, Graham Media Group Branded Content Managing Editor, began working with the group in April 2013. She graduated from Texas State University with a degree in electronic media.

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