New Washington Post publisher a throwback on the social scene

The installation of Fred Ryan at the top of the Washington Post’s masthead might seem like a break from tradition — after all, the new publisher replaces Katharine Weymouth, the last member of the storied Graham family dynasty to hold a leadership position at the news organization.

But Ryan is a throwback to another of the city’s institutions: the social circuit.

Ryan is much more of a presence on Washington’s social scene than his predecessor, cutting a figure in the city’s book parties, galas, and Georgetown dining rooms in a way that reminded several observers of the late Katharine Graham, Weymouth’s grandmother. Ryan, often accompanied by wife Genevieve, regularly attends the kind of swanky soirees filled with the town’s elite journalists, embassy types, business leaders and philanthropists, that Katharine Graham was famous for hosting.

“In Fred, Jeff Bezos and the Post have really found an ambassador,” says John Arundel, the associate publisher of Washington Life magazine, the glossy chronicler of the city’s A-listers (for context, a search of Ryan’s name in the magazine’s archives turned up a healthy page-ful of photos, while Weymouth had only a handful). “He understands that this is a relationship business.”

The Ryans throw a lavish annual St. Patrick’s Day party at their Potomac, Md., home, where they throw open their doors to hundreds of guests.  “They entertain impeccably,” says one guest.

Ryan, while a top executive at Politico the past seven years, was known to obsess over the location of the news organizations’ tables at the glitzy White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, wanting Politico and its guests as close to the head table as possible. He dons black tie for glamorous balls and attends performances at the Kennedy Center. 

Tammy Haddad, the CEO of Haddad Media and herself a fixture on the social scene, called him a “dominant player.”

That represents a change for the Post. Owner Jeff Bezos spends little time in Washington. Friends say Weymouth prefers smaller gatherings, often informal dinners or barbecues with intimates, at her home. Executive editor Marty Baron is more likely to spend his evenings working.

Ryan himself, though, wasn’t certain that he would act as a tuxedo-clad ambassador connecting the Post to the town’s movers and shakers. “I don’t quite see it that way,” he told the Reliable Source after addressing the newsroom for the first time as publisher on Tuesday afternoon. His penchant for mingling, he said, is simply a personal preference. “I love Washington, I just enjoy it, and I hope it’s a plus for the organization.”

But he seemed aware of the cardinal rule of social Washington: There is no separating business and pleasure.

“It’s true for all of us in Washington — no matter what you’re doing, you always try to represent your business as best you can.”

 

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Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.
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Emily Heil · September 2