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Katharine Graham: Moral Hero
on April 25, 2002
Katharine Graham: Job of the Journalism World
Whether they should have or not, the politics, journalism and social issues discussed in Katharine Graham's Autobiography captured little of my interest. However, what kept my attention through a very wordy 625-page book written by Katharine herself (who was thankfully just the editor of the Post and not a writer) was the moral fiber she displayed. Katharine never failed to remain tenacious, perseverant, and passionate in every venture of her life, both personally and professionally-even those most difficult for her.
Katharine experienced a major crisis in every aspect of her life. At home, Katharine loses a child in a miscarriage. Years later, her beloved husband, mentor and friend, Phil, becomes mentally unstable and commits suicide. Her daughter is divorced several times and Katharine loses the closeness with her two sons as a result of her headfirst dive into her work. At the Post, Katharine experiences the death of a President, the difficulty of having to run a corporation when she has no experience, and losing her entire staff (and a great deal of equipment) to a union strike. Throughout all of this, Katharine is able to remain focused and positive and hang on long enough to re-gather her bearings and start again. She moves on to fill the job Phil held, although she recognizes she will never do it as well. She backs the new president fully and helps him and his wife through a difficult time, and she gathers together family and friends to answer phones, write articles, and print papers so she can continue delivering the news to her subscribers. Katharine never gives up. Despite her aristocratic, ritzy upbringing, she is full of heart. It is very interesting that she cannot do laundry or cook her own meals, yet she can lead a corporation that came to be so influential in founding the policies and actions of journalism as we know them today.
Katharine says, "I had to come to realize that I could only do the job in whatever way I could do it" (341). This mindset is one of the greatest reasons Katharine was continually successful. She knew she her mothering skills would have made Dr. Spock cringe, however, she never stopped loving her children and being there for them the best way she knew how. At the Post, she says, "I was...uneducated in even the basics of the working world-how to relate to people professionally, how to tell people things that they might not want to hear, how to give praise as well as criticism, hw to use time to the best effect. Things that people learned automatically in the workplace or in graduate schools..." (343). This never stopped her, and although she admitted over and over again that she had no idea what she was doing and felt "as I've walked on stage for a part I've never rehearsed," Katharine threw herself into learning and trying, a formula which eventually led to success (354). Her humble attitude caused people to want to help her, and Katharine felt that she needed to know the workings of every part of the Post intimately, so she started from the bottom up, learning how each component functioned and fit together to produce the paper. This knowledge was of great value later on, for a multiple of reasons. The "lower end" employees respected Katharine because they felt she understood them and valued their contributions. Also, when the union strike occurred, Katharine had to take over every part of production herself, and because of the time she had spent learning, she was educated enough to produce the Post herself with limited assistance. Even though Katharine often knew her work was inferior to the job others could do, she recognized a need for her to step in, she took the challenge, and she gave all she could. Eventually, this proved to be enough as Katharine's success blossomed over time.
Katharine's daughter described her mother's strengths as, "good judgment, ability to get along with people, earn their respect and discern their strengths and weaknesses" (342). All of these qualities were not things that Katharine felt she started out with after Phil died and she took over the Post. However, each time Katharine held on during a difficult situation and persevered when it would have been easier to quit, she gained another valuable skill to add to her repertoire. When these added up over time, they came to mold Katharine into an experienced, well-balanced career woman who would never fail because she would not allow herself to. This, combined with the passion Katharine always threw into her work, caused her to be one of the most charismatic individuals in the history of journalism, and also politics.
Katharine Graham impacts my life in perhaps a very different way than other readers. I envy her ability to hang on even in the worst situations. Besides merely staying in the game, Katharine found ways to uses these circumstances as opportunities to grow as a person and develop more knowledge and skills. I am motivated by her character and find her tenacity and strong-will inspiring.