Post Note

Beyond the myth of Katharine Graham

Movie critics have hailed
The Post, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Meryl Streep (pictured) as Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham. But the real-life political realities of Graham and her newspaper are another story.

The Post comes 20 years after Graham’s autobiography Personal History appeared and won enormous praise. The book is a poignant account of Graham’s quest to overcome sexism, learn the newspaper business and gain self-esteem. However, as media history, it is deceptive.

“I don’t believe that whom I was or wasn’t friends with interfered with our reporting at any of our publications,” Graham wrote. But Robert Parry, who was a Washington correspondent for Newsweek during the last three years of the 1980s, has shed light on the shadows of Graham’s reassuring prose.

Parry said he witnessed “self-censorship because of the coziness between Post-Newsweek executives and senior national security figures.”

Among his examples: “On one occasion in 1987, I was told that my story about the CIA funneling anti-Sandinista money through Nicaragua’s Catholic Church had been watered down because the story needed to be run past Mrs. Graham, and Henry Kissinger was her house guest that weekend. Apparently, there was fear among the top editors that the story as written might cause some consternation.”

Graham’s book exudes affection for Kissinger, Robert McNamara and other luminaries who remained her close friends until she died in 2001. In sharp contrast, Graham devoted dozens of righteous pages to vilifying Post press operators who went on strike in 1975. To her, the thuggish deeds by a few of the strikers were “unforgivable”—while men like McNamara and Kissinger were wonderful human beings after they oversaw horrendous slaughter in Southeast Asia.

In Graham’s world, elites mattered most. Although widely touted as a feminist parable, her Pulitzer Prize–winning autobiography lacks solidarity for women without affluence or white skin. They barely seemed to exist in her range of vision; painful realities of class and racial biases were dim, faraway specks.

Graham’s consent to report on the Pentagon Papers in June 1971 was laudable, helping to expose lies that had greased the wheels of the war machinery with such horrific consequences in Vietnam. But the Washington Post was instrumental in avidly promoting the lies that made the Vietnam War possible in the first place. No amount of rave reviews or Oscar nominations for The Post will change that awful truth.

Norman Solomon is the coordinator of and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is the author of a dozen books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”

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