As speculation over the fallout from the sale of The Washington Post continues, few will feel the changes harder than Donald E. Graham, the man at the helm of the newspaper for more than two decades.
At 68, Graham is about to undergo a startling transition, from the man atop one of the most influential papers in the country — and certainly the most visible in Washington — to a role that may be more akin to a successful local businessman.
“He has always been associated with The Washington Post — it gave him entry into wherever he wanted to be,” said Newspapers & Technology columnist Doug Page. “That will change.”
As Page put it, after the sale, “He can’t turn to his editors on the editorial page and say, ‘Do this.’ “
Of course, several decades at the top of the company have also made Graham one of the most important power players in Washington. He is on the board of directors for Facebook, after striking up a close friendship with founder Mark Zuckerberg, nearly 40 years younger than Graham. And he remains a member of the Pulitzer Prize board, where he met his current wife, Amanda Bennett, a former editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer. (Graham’s 40-year marriage to Mary Wissler ended in 2007; the couple had four children, all of whom are now in journalism or social media.)
Graham is also a trustee of the Federal City Council, a group of business leaders focused on improving life in the nation’s capital; a director of the Summit Fund of Washington, aimed at building up the Anacostia area and preventing teen pregnancies; and a leader of the College Success Foundation, the District of Columbia College Access Program, and the charter school program KIPP-DC.
“He’s a power player,” said John Zogby, founder of the polling firm Zogby International and a longtime Washington observer. “His family is ingrained in the community.”
Yet there’s no doubt that the transfer of ownership from Graham’s family, which has run The Post for 80 years, to Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos might be seen as a tragic final act for Graham, son of the newspaper’s dynasty builders, the late publishers Philip and Katharine Graham.
But because Graham started at the bottom before rising to the top of his company, he gets credit for doing all he could to save The Post from being one of the biggest victims of the seismic shift from print to digital media. It just turned out that his many and varied attempts to right the ship fell short.
“In some regards you could say the Graham family decided they didn’t have the skill-set to operate The Washington Post in the future,” said Page.
Graham acknowledged as much in his statement announcing the sale on Monday. “We had innovated, and to my critical eye our innovations had been quite successful in audience and in quality, but they hadn’t made up for the revenue decline,” he said. “Our answer had to be cost cuts, and we knew there was a limit to that. We were certain the paper would survive under our ownership, but we wanted it to do more than that. We wanted it to succeed.”
As media empires around the country were crumbling in 2009, Page listed his candidates for “worst chief executive officer of a publicly held U.S. newspaper company.” Graham was not among them.
“I always thought he was a pretty good operator,” Page said.
Graham became CEO of The Washington Post Co. in 1991 and chairman in 1993. During his 20 years as chairman, the number of Post subscribers dropped nearly in half and the newsroom staff was cut by a third, and 2013 was shaping up as the seventh straight year of declining revenues.
“This has to be categorized as uncharted waters,” Zogby said. “Newspapers face new challenges with every generation. This is the next iteration and probably the most transformative.”
The $250 million sale to Bezos, an established leader of the digital revolution, represents the best hope for meeting the newspaper’s “enormous challenges of both revenue and relevance,” Zogby said. “If he can’t do it nobody can.”
Graham announced the sale to The Post staff on Monday afternoon “in a voice so full of emotion that he had to stop a few times to gather himself,” wrote David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker and a former Post reporter, in a blog post on Tuesday. And though Graham will remain chairman of the other Post holdings besides the newspaper, “I can’t help thinking this: Donald Graham’s heart is broken,” Remnick wrote.
Graham has lived and breathed The Post since birth, and he started his career climb at Harvard College as president of the Harvard Crimson. He graduated in 1966, was drafted the following year, and served as an information specialist for the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam until 1968, then became a patrolman with the Washington Metropolitan Police Department in 1969 and 1970. He became a reporter at The Post in 1971, just as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were starting the Watergate investigation that brought down a president and made the newspaper famous.
After five years as a reporter, advertising salesman, production supervisor, and in other roles at the newspaper, Graham was named The Post‘s executive vice president and general manager in 1976. He succeeded his mother as publisher in 1979 and held the position until 2000, when he became chairman of both the newspaper and its other properties, including cable-television systems and the Kaplan educational division.
Graham’s devotion to journalism and passion for his employees made him beloved among The Post‘s staff. Columnist Gene Weingarten summed it up in an “open letter to Jeff Bezos” on The Post website Tuesday: “I think I speak for more than myself when I say that the main reason I have high hopes for your stewardship is that Don Graham said it was the right thing for the paper. He said you are the right guy. That was enough for me.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect first name for John Zogby.
- 1 Hillary Clinton Will Win the Nomination, But Then What?
- 2 How Washington Derailed Amtrak
- 3 Smart Ideas: Criminal Justice Reform, Cybersecurity and Fighting ISIS
- 4 State Department Releases More Hillary Clinton Emails
- 5 Secret-Money Group Tied to Marco Rubio Super PAC Has Been Researching Presidential Primary Voters
What We're Following See More »
Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:
- Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
- Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
- They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
- One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”
Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”
The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”
At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”