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  •   Q&A With Katharine Graham

    Katharine Graham
    Katharine Graham
    (file photo)
    Good afternoon and welcome to "Levey Live." I'm Washington Post columnist Bob Levey, your host.

    "Levey Live" appears each Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. It's your chance to talk directly to major newsmakers and to key Washington Post executives, editors and reporters.

    Today, our guest is Katharine Graham, chairman of the executive committee of The Washington Post Company. Mrs. Graham is a world-famous figure in modern journalism. She took over as president of the company in 1963, following the death of her husband, Philip L. Graham.

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  • She was publisher of The Washington Post from 1969 to 1979 and chief executive officer of the company from 1973 until 1991. In 1997, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her memoir, "Personal History."

    Your questions and comments for Katharine Graham are welcome throughout the hour.

    Annapolis, Maryland: As a prominent member of Washington society, how do you feel your relationships with the subjects and sources of news affect the objectivity of the Washington Post?

    Katharine Graham: My relationships with people in politics or financial areas have absolutely nothing to do with The Post. Editors here probably don't know and if they know don't care who my friends are.

    San Francisco,CA: Recently, the highest ranking female editor at the New York Times said that women journalists with families could not do as good a job as those without families. Please comment.

    Katharine Graham: I think women with families are certainly able to do as competent and able a job as women without families. I am sure at least half the women who work and who attain high positions have families.

    Bob Levey: So often, you are described as "the most powerful woman in the world." Do you feel that you are? Is it a pleasure to hear yourself described that way?

    Katharine Graham: I don't think what I have is power. I have responsibility for seeing to it that the company is run well. That the editors and business people are doing good jobs, but the power of deciding what is in print and what isn't is theirs, not mine. Actually, I don't even have that much power now because I am no longer chief executive officer of the company. My son Donald is. I think that there is a certain sexism to calling me the most powerful woman in the world. They don't refer to Punch Sulzberger of the New York Times as the most powerful man in the world.

    Bob Levey: You bet the ranch and all the ponies on your editors and reporters during Watergate. Was there ever a moment when you doubted that you should have?

    Katharine Graham: There was no moment of serious doubt about the reporters and editors during Watergate. I was concerned continuously about whether we were sure we were accurate and fair. Ben Bradlee was reassuring in that respect.

    N Andover, MA: Mrs. Graham, I would appreciate learning about your view of on-line publications. How do you see on-line newspapers supplementing and/or replacing print newspapers? What added value does an on-line newspaper provide to the reader and to the publisher? And how do the publishing processes differ for each?

    Katharine Graham: I think that the fact that people get information so quickly from the Internet is bound to affect print publications, including newspapers. It will be a continuous challenge to newspapers to bring people information and explanations that they need to have in addition to what they can get instantaneously from the Internet.

    Slagelse , DENMARK: Do you think that reporters these days are only after stories that ruin people lives, instead of stories which bring enjoyment to people's daily lives?

    Katharine Graham: Reporters on responsible newspapers are trying to inform people in democracies. I'm sure we have to bring a wider range of subjects to people than papers used to do. It is true that the news is too often negative because the plane that crashes is what makes news, not the millions that land without problems. But I don't think good newspapers these days are trying to hurt people.

    Rockville, MD: What is it like working with Warren Buffet. How has he, and Berkshire Hathaway, affected your decisions with the Post. How big of an asset has he really been?

    Katharine Graham: Warren Buffett is about the biggest asset The Post Company has ever acquired. His interest and advice has been invaluable not only for me but for my successor, Donald Graham. We consult him on every big decision and have found his advice extremely helpful in every way. I cannot overestimate his influence and support over many years.

    Indianapolis, IN: Ms. Graham -- I enjoyed your book and hope that it is not the last you write. I hope you will continue to share your perspectives on the Washington scene and the role news journalism has to play ... so, is another book in our future??!

    Katharine Graham: Thank you for your compliment about the book I wrote. It was my autobiography and I have only one life I can write about, so I'm afraid that is the end of my books. At least for the moment.

    Washington, D.C.: The Washington Post, as you know, is not just a newspaper; it's a power broker in DC. And power brokers do not always make the right decisions. Using the proverbial 20/20 hindsight, what one decision that negatively impacted the city do you regret? and why?

    Katharine Graham: The Post has to make news decisions daily that inevitably influence the national and local scenes to some extent. I really don't know that we've made all of these exactly right. We have to do it every day. But I don't recall any particular decision that I think was harmful or that we should retract.

    Kill Devil Hills, NC: Ms. Graham,

    I thoroughly enjoyed your autobiography. I was surprised to learn that you were thrust into your position at the helm of the Post when your husband died rather than having been groomed to take it as the daughter of the publisher. Do you think that would have been different had you been of a subsequent generation? How might your life have been different if you took over under the same circumstances today?

    Katharine Graham: If I had been in a different generation I think I would have been better trained in the essentials of the working world, because I would have always thought I would work somewhere. I did think I would always work. I was told that by my mother and father. But I never dreamt I would have to manage anything. I'm not sure that I would probably be trained to manage anything today.

    new york, new york: how would you recommend a college graduate initiate a career in journalism?

    Katharine Graham: There are a variety of ways for college graduates to become journalists. I believe one of the best ways is to work for a small publication, newspaper or magazine, because you can get more attention and help than you would ever get in a big organization. You can go from there to bigger organizations with some experience.

    Bob Levey: As major media companies go, the Post has not made very many acquisitions. The New York Times bought The Boston Globe, Times Mirror bought several papers, but The Post has bought none lately. Nor have we expanded into additional magazine or newsletter publishing. Why so little expansion? Will this ever change?

    Katharine Graham: The Washington Post Company has tried to make economically viable acquisitions that in the end reward the company's shareholders for the money expended. This is very hard to do and has held us back from making some desirable but uneconomic acquisitions. Like you, I wish we had grown more but we have done extremely well and have been rewarded as a company for those decisions and our stockholders have been satisfied.

    Brookline, MA: Will the Post still be controlled by your grandchildren and their families? Have you made arrangements to keep the business 'in the family'?

    Katharine Graham: The Post Company will be controlled by my son Donald, who is only 53. After that there are nine grandchildren and if one of them is interested and equipped to do the job, I hope it will continue in the family and it is set up so it is possible. It depends therefore on the ability and interest of the fourth generation, which I hope will be there.

    Marcus Skeel, Washington DC: Mrs Graham:

    You must, as much of any of us, regret the city Washington has become. Do you see any hope for it ever becoming a city the nation can be proud of again, and what would be the one or two most important things that could make that happen?

    Katharine Graham: Washington has already improved with the input of the Control Board. I certainly do believe this city's problems can be solved and that we can and will have a nation's capital of which the country can be proud.

    Washington, DC: In your autobiography, you stated how much you enjoyed attending the University of Chicago. Why did you like that school better than Vassar? (I'm a Vassar Alumni)

    Katharine Graham: Vassar was very good for me for the first two years. I had never lived in the midwest, lived in the city or participated in co-education, all of which I enjoyed at the time. I was not being critical of Vassar at all.

    Bob Levey: Half an hour remaining with our guest, Katharine Graham, chairman of the executive committee of The Washington Post Company.

    Alexandria Va: How will newspapers survive in the future. Since I have access to the Washington Post via the Internet, I don't buy the Washington Post anymore. Do you plan to charge for Internet access in the future?

    Katharine Graham: I have already conceded that life for newspapers will be more difficult because of the Internet. I feel it's very necessary for newspapers to fully inform people. You do not receive all the information, explanations, comment and background that you can get from The Post. So I think and hope newspapers will continue to be necessary to those who want to be completely informed, more than the minute and a half you will get on the Internet.

    Wellesley, Ma: Do you know who Deepthroat is and if so will you divulge his/her identity in your lifetime?

    Katharine Graham: I still don't know the identity of Deep Throat. Only Ben Bradlee and Woodward and Bernstein know his identity. Maybe I could have pushed them to tell me at the time, but I didn't. I think it's the only secret I know of that's been kept in Washington.

    Boston, MA: How closely do you believe the Pentagon Papers scenario parallels the current media dilemma over what to publish regarding the President's personal life? What lessons did you draw from that time that apply today?

    Katharine Graham: I don't see the Pentagon Papers or Watergate as being at all similar to what is going on now under the Clinton Administration. There are certainly concerns at present, but they are totally different in my view from the political problems under President Nixon.

    Denver, Colorado: What are your thoughts on the field of journalism becoming increasingly more unethical and also less accurate in the last decade? Do you feel this is a trend or do you feel that this has always existed?

    Katharine Graham: I feel journalism is not as bad or as inaccurate or as unfair as is being claimed. In many ways journalists are doing a better, more thoughtful, more complete job than they used to do. It is fashionable to dump on the press. I'm sure we are not perfect, but nor are we as prone to error and bad judgements as it is asserted currently.

    Washington, DC: The Washington Post holds a unique position as a national paper that still has to satisfy its local readers with the "small" news of the city and surrounding suburbs. How does the Post handle this and its image?

    Katharine Graham: The Post is essentially a local newspaper. We care very much about the District and the areas around us. We are not a national newspaper and our economy is local in large part. However, of course we report on many national and international events as part of our obligation to our readers. Because we are right here with the national government and the State Department, we certainly report in greater detail than anyone except the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal on these kinds of events. We have to balance editorially local and national issues. This is perhaps our greatest challenge.

    Bob Levey: So many people believe that The Washington Post is a knee-jerk liberal organization. Yet the masthead says it's "An Independent Newspaper," and the Post often deviates editorially from the conventional liberal line. Why, then, does the reputation persist?

    Katharine Graham: When my father bought The Post in 1933, he was a Republican and everyone assumed the paper would become Republican. He, at that time, emphasized to his editors that he wanted the paper to be truly independent and that is what we have always tried to be. It may be that our liberal reputation got started when we were reporting Watergate, because there was a Republican administration then in power. You are right, we do have a reputation as a liberal newspaper. There is nothing wrong with being liberal, but I really feel we are independent in our judgements.

    Hyattsville, Md.: The Post coverage of the Clinton/Lewinsky story has made it clear -- as did Post coverage of Watergate -- that the paper relies heavily on unnamed sources to get information and stories.

    Do you think these anonymous sources are overused by the paper, and by the Washington media in general? What is the paper's policy on using anonymous sources? And has the policy evolved over the decades of the paper's life, in response to criticisms from the community or problems that have arisen from using them?

    Katharine Graham: There is no way a newspaper cannot rely to some extent on sources that we cannot name without harming them or betraying their positions. It is not a good idea to overuse anonymous sources. Sometimes it's just lazy reporting when you could really name the sources. Most people who are sophisticated know who these sources are. They can figure it out. So the only person who doesn't know is the reader.

    Fairfax, Virginia (George Mason University): Mrs Graham:

    To what extend do you think
    we should allow people to
    take advantage of the freedom
    of speech on the internet to
    publish material that could
    be harmful? (example,
    instructions on how to
    make a bomb)

    Katharine Graham: I don't know the answer to the abuse of the Internet--either as you say for making a bomb or for information that abuses children who are watching. I am for freedom of expression on the Internet as I am for print. But it troubles me deeply that it can and sometimes is abused in these ways. It is something we need to think about, as the problem is relatively new.

    Bob Levey: Ben Bradlee was certainly the right editor at the right time--energetic, inspirational, swashbuckling and determined. How would you describe his performance as executive editor?

    Katharine Graham: I feel Ben Bradlee's editing of The Washington Post was brilliant, creative, accurate and fair. I enjoyed working with him. He is a charismatic figure, but I think that his professional performance was excellent.

    washington,dc: You have met so many world leaders and many who were not world leaders but had the skills and abilities to do so. Who do you think has had a profound impact on the world? Who do you think could have have a profound impact on the world?

    Katharine Graham: One of the least known but most influential men that I knew was Jean Monnet, who was the father of United Europe. He was a writer and thinker of great consequence and much influence who is relatively unknown except to people interested in those subjects.

    New York: What do you think the newspaper industry can do to attract younger readers?

    Katharine Graham: I am not sure what the generation brought up on television wants from print. Obviously, it is important to have young readers and to report on their own activities and subjects of interest to college and post college ages. Unfortunately, they still read less of everything than the previous generation. I don't know how to get around that problem, but I hope we can.

    Washington, DC: I found your book extremely interesting and am quite impressed with the way you handled running the Post after your husband's death. While you certainly did not take a vindictive tone in the book, did you feel any incentive to answer some of your critics in your book when you began to write it? Was that one of the motivations behind writing it?

    Katharine Graham: I very consciously did not address the issues in books about me when I undertook to write my own. I did not want to dignify the others in any way. In my own book I simply tried to tell what happened, to set the record straight for now and the future as best I could.

    Bob Levey: This is not a good time to admit that one lives in Washington. Outside the Beltway, people bash Congress endlessly. Marion Barry will remain an issue even after he leaves office. Should The Post emphasize the positives about Washington in an effort to balance the city's negative reputation?

    Katharine Graham: It might be a temptation for The Post to try to defend the District of Columbia and surrounding areas, and therefore to report the good things that happen. I do not believe that newspapers should pay attention to that kind of thing in their news columns. They should report events in the most detached possible way, without regard to what other people are saying. We can express our opinions on the editorial page. That is where they should be kept.

    Bob Levey: That's it for this week. Our thanks to Katharine Graham. Be sure to join us next Tuesday when our scheduled guest is the governor of Virginia, Jim Gilmore.

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