Power, Privilege, and the Post: The Katharine Graham Story

Power, Privilege, and the Post: The Katharine Graham Story

by Carol Felsenthal
     
 

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When Carol Flesenthal's biography of Washington Post and Newsweek owner Kay Graham was published incloth in 1993, even Graham's own newspaper called it "pitiless," "lively," "irreverent," and a "persuasive, compelling portrait of a gutsy woman."

Born the shy and homely daughter of Jewish millionaire Eugene Myer, Katharine Myer's life changed

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Overview

When Carol Flesenthal's biography of Washington Post and Newsweek owner Kay Graham was published incloth in 1993, even Graham's own newspaper called it "pitiless," "lively," "irreverent," and a "persuasive, compelling portrait of a gutsy woman."

Born the shy and homely daughter of Jewish millionaire Eugene Myer, Katharine Myer's life changed dramatically when she married the power-hungry Philip Graham -- a man even more dynamic than his close friend John F. Kennedy. Philip Graham took over the Post and used it to amass a media empire and position himself as a Washington kingmaker. Then, in 1963 Graham killed himself and Kay Graham was left to take control of the paper. Despite her lingering insecurities, Graham made all the right decisions -- first hiring Ben Bradlee as editor, then publishing the Pentagon Papers and risking the Nixon Administration's wrath with her paper's Watergate coverage. She ended her career as the only female head of a Fortune 500 company.

Felsenthal doesn't pull any punches in her descriptions of Graham's family, her husband's cruel and erratic behavior, or the internal politics at the Post. But Kay Graham emerges as a courageous woman who constantly managed to surprise the men who underestimated her.

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Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune
Carol Felsenthal has given us more than a biography of a single woman. This is a book that places its subject within a swirling context of newspaper publishing and American politics and helps us understand the power and privileges of the media in our time.
Washington Post
The story...[of] the interplay of politics and personality that is the real drama of Washington.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
A portrait of a complex and fascinating woman, Felsenthal's book is totally engrossing.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
According to Felsenthal ( Alice Roosevelt Longworth ), Katharine Graham, the imperious media mogul whose empire includes the Washington Post, Newsweek, TV stations and cable systems, was a fragile, withdrawn person, ill-prepared to run a troubled newspaper, when she became publisher of the Post after the suicide of her manic-depressive husband Phil. In this absorbing, gossipy biography, Felsenthal sympathetically portrays Graham (b. 1917) as a survivor of emotional abuse and as a brave fighter for a free press who took tremendous risks by printing the Pentagon Papers and by disregarding pressure from Nixon in covering the Watergate affair. As a girl, she had to prove her mettle constantly to her father, Eugene Meyer, a Jewish Wall Street millionaire, and to her bombastic Lutheran mother, Agnes Ernst Meyer, a ``do-gooder liberal'' who preached tolerance while harboring ``an ugly streak of anti-Semitism'' and belittling her children. Felsenthal presents Graham as an ``emotionally battered'' wife who endured her husband's anti-Semitic slurs and even laughed at the crude jokes he made at her expense. Photos. First serial to Vanity Fair; BOMC featured alternate. (Feb.)
Library Journal
In this new biography, Katharine Graham emerges as a woman of contradictions: a powerful publisher plagued by insecurity and self-doubt. Beginning with Graham's difficult relationship with her mother and moving through her marriage to the brilliant but manic-depressive Phil Graham, Felsenthal ( Alice Roosevelt Longworth , LJ 2/15/88, and The Sweetheart of the Silent Majority: The Biography of Phyllis Schafly , LJ 1/81) documents the emotional abuses that helped shape a vulnerable and tough Kay Graham. Ever contradictory, she supported Nixon for president yet made decisions that permitted Washington Post reporters to pursue a story that would result in his resignation. She believed women were inferior yet led a media empire to both financial and journalistic success. This is the second biography of Graham; the first, Deborah Davis's newly reissued Katharine the Great (Sheridan Pr., 1991), stirred controversy and was pulled soon after its publication in 1979. Felsenthal devotes a chapter to the fate of the first. She bases her biography on interviews and offers the reader a compelling portrait of a complex woman. It belongs in both public and academic libraries.-- Judy Solberg, Univ. of Maryland Libs., College Park
Denise Perry Donavin
Graham is barely a presence for Felsenthal's first 200 pages. She's overshadowed by her power-brokering father, Eugene Meyer, her egocentric mother, Agnes, and finally her grandiose husband, Phil Graham, whom Graham's father selected as the appropriate heir to his newspaper, the "Washington Post". And yet the background that emerges regarding Graham's education and family life form an interesting contrast to the formidable woman she became after her husband's death. The author's admiration for Graham's professionalism, especially her ability to keep her paper and her social life separate, are part of the picture, evidenced by Graham's dining with Spiro Agnew even while her paper defamed him. Her strong opinions were frequently voiced, and while she did not interfere editorially, she did okay the printing of the "Pentagon Papers" and the Watergate investigation. Probably most fascinating is the endless parade of personalities, not just presidents and political figures, but also the writers who have contributed to the "Post" over the years, including those whom the "Post" fired. It's a list even more impressive than the invitees to the middle-age coming-out party Truman Capote threw for Graham in her early years as publisher. A cogent biography packed with facts, quotes, and anecdotes gleaned from print and personal sources, about the "world's most powerful woman."
Booknews
Not so much a profile as a chronological collage--of comings and goings, events, phone calls, letters, and quotes and comments from various sources. The "story" of the heiress/newspaper publisher remains to be told with cohesion and insight. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780399137327
Publisher:
Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
02/16/1993
Pages:
512
Product dimensions:
20.00(w) x 20.00(h) x 20.00(d)

Meet the Author

CAROL FELSENTHAL is the author of several acclaimed biographies, including the best-selling Power, Privilege, and the Post: The Katharine Graham Story; Princess Alice: The Life and Times of Alice Roosevelt Longworth; and The Sweetheart of the Silent Majority: The Biography of Phyllis Schlafly.

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