THE Washington Post and Watergate are the inseparable twins of modern American journalism. The newspaper's newsroom, in exact Hollywood reproduction, has been seen by more people than any other, thanks to a motion picture version of how two of its reporters pursued the Watergate story. As The Post begins its second century, its controlling owner ranks among the most powerful and influential publishers in the nation's history.
But it did not all begin with Watergate. It began on December 6, 1877, in the wake of Reconstruction, when Stilson Hutchins, a young man from New Hampshire by way of Iowa and Missouri, came to the small and provincial national capital to found what he called "a Democratic daily." Washington then was a city of only 130,000 (a third of its population largely illiterate blacks, many of whom were refugees from the Civil War). The Post began as a six-day, four-page, three-cent paper; the Sunday edition, eight pages for five cents, was added on May 2, 1880. It was the capital's first seven-day newspaper.
Hutchins' ownership was the first of four. In 1889 he sold the paper to a partnership of Ohioans: Frank Hatton, a Republican newspaperman and former Postmaster General, and Beriah Wilkins, a Democratic banker and congressman. After their deaths, John R. McLean, a Cincinnati publisher and Democratic politican, gained control in 1905. McLean let the paper slip into sensationalism, with a touch or more of William Randolph Hearst. On his death, control passed to his only child, Edward B. (Ned) McLean. Ned's wife, Evalyn Walsh McLean, was a waelthy socialite who sported the Hope diamond among her jewels.
After the death of his friend, President Harding, Ned McLean was caught in a lie trying to cover up for former Interior secretary Albert Fall during the Teapot Dome investigation. Furthermore, McLean wasboth an alcoholic and a profligate; he wanted The Post's assets and the paper began to slide downhill. On June 1, 1933, The Washington Post was sold at bankruptcy auction for $825,000 on the steps of the E Street building, facing Pennsylvania Avenue, its home for fifty-seven years.
The purchaser was Eugene Meyer, a millionaire Republican financier and former government official. For two decades he pumped $20 million of his fortune into The Post before red ink finally turned to black. It was Meyer who rescued and revived the paper, giving it the priceless ingredients of success: integrity, decency and powerful idealism.
Meyer turned over control of his paper to his son-in-law, Philip L. Grahem, an inspiring leader with tremendous ambitions for The Post. But, tragically, he died by his own hand on August 3, 1963. Control then was inherited by Meyer's daughter, Graham's wife, Katharine Meyer Graham, the current publisher. Her son, Donald E. Graham, now general manager of The Post, is preparing to be her successor.
During its first century John Philip Sousa wrote the stirring "Washingyon Post March" for owners Hatton and Wilkins. One Post cartoonist, Clifford K. Berryman (later with the Star), created Theodore Roosevelt's Teddy Bear and coined the slogan "Remember the Maine" of the Spanish-American war. Another cartoonist, Herbert L. Block (Herblock), coined the opprobrious term "McCarthyism" and became Richard Nixon's implacable foe. During the McLean era, The Post helped destroy Woodrwo Wilson's dream of American participation in the League of Nations; under Meyer the paper was forceful backer of an expanding American role abroad in the era of Franklin D. Roosevelt. But it was a leading opponent of FDR's plan to "pack" the Supreme Court and it lambasted his New Deal economics.
The Post is the newspaper that recklessly helped incite a race riot follwing World War I. it also is the paper that led the movement toward full fights for black citizens after World War II, both editorially and in its expanded news coverage.
In its first hundred years twenty Prdsidents, living a few blocks away, have been Post readers. Most were concerned about it said of them. Many curried its favor and some received it; a few disdained the paper. One sought to damage if not to destroy it.
Because Washington is a political city - Henry James called it "the city of conversation" - The Post throughout its life has paid more attention to government and to those who compose it than to anything else. It has observed them all - Presidents to bureaucrats - with fascination, praise, scorn, and at times with verbal loathing. It has recorded their high aspirations and accomplishments - and disclosed their foibles and unconscionable acts. Its pages have been flushed with five wars, the recurrent search for lasting peace, and the often roller-coaster economy.
For much of its early life The Post's editorials were more powerful than its reporting was exact. The paper has spoken timorously, stridently, thunderously. In recent decades The Wahsington Post has been the powerful voice of liberal American democracy.
At its founding the paper was bright and saucy, but it grew gray and dull, even outrageous and groveling. At times it was despised within the trade; today the door is jammed with job seekers. In the earlier and the later decades The Post well served the public interest, sometimes at great risk, as in the McCarthy and Watergate eras. In short, its journalism has ranged form the obsequious and the sensational to the solidly exemplary.
For decades under different owners The Post struggled against that proper and long profitable old lady of Washington journalism, the Evening and Sunday Star. Its current profitability dates from the achievement of morning-paper monopoly in 1954 with the purchase of Colonel Robert R. McCormick's reacionary Times-Herald. The Post then raced past the Star and soon began to find a new target to challenge for the role of the nation's number - the New York Times. This competition has become intense, today's most notable rivalry among all American newspapers.
The Washington Post began as a private business and continued so until it went public in 1971, but control remains firmly in family in family hands. As its second century begins, the newspaper is the flagship of a major communications empire that includes Newsweek magazine; the seven-day Trenton (New Jersey) Times and Sunday Times-Advertiser; four television stations; a half interest in a major news service with the Los Angeles Times which distributes Post stories at home and abroad; a part interest in the International Herald Tribune, published in Paris; and ownership of, or interests in, various supportive enterprises. The corporation's revenurs now well exceed a third of a billion dollars annually.
The Washington Post has survived and grown to greatness in a city long known as "the graveyard of journalism." Today a post editor, reporter, or editorial writer can move a President or the Congress, influence the courts, cleanse a regulatory agency, affect elections, protect the public interest in myriad ways - or, as Katharine Graham has cautioned, the paper can "distort events, destroy reputations and influence public opinion recklessly." This vast power and the newspaper's use of it over the century has engendered every response from adulation to hatred. So it is today as The Post's 101st year begins.