Kay Graham: Pillar of the Post and press
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The big names in journalism, government and business are expected to be among the thousands at Washington National Cathedral today who will pay their final respects to legendary Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham.
CNN will provide live coverage of her funeral, beginning at 10 a.m. EDT.
Graham -- known to friends and colleagues as Kay -- died at age 84 last week from head injuries she suffered in a fall while attending a business conference in Sun Valley, Idaho.
"She was the premier American publisher," said the former Post executive editor Ben Bradlee -- now the paper's vice president at large. "She got tested more than most of them, and she stood up with such bravery."
She influenced a generation of journalists by standing firm at the helm of the paper in 1972, when young and inexperienced reporters, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, began detailing sensational allegations against Richard Nixon and his top aides during the Watergate scandal.
The Nixon White House, backed by some of the most powerful members of Congress and the business community, hammered the Post, questioning the paper's credibility and motives.
That made the stakes very high for Graham and her paper, but she stood by her reporters and her editor, Bradlee.
"I used to go down there and say, 'Are we being sure we're being fair, we're being accurate? Are we sure we're not being misled so somebody can cut us off at the knees?' And Ben's answers were very good to that," Graham said.
The published reports led to Nixon's resignation.
Former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite praised Graham for "letting Bradlee do his job" during Watergate, adding "it took a lot of courage for her to do that."
"The publisher has to be the moral force of the newspaper," Cronkite said. "She carried herself as a queen ... and she was a queen in her own field."
Bradlee praised Graham for steering the Post "on a course to excellence that can't be beat. She was the most famous publisher of her day, not only the most famous, but the best. She was a star, one of a kind."
Graham also displayed the same aggressive journalism a few years earlier in 1971 when Rand Corp. researcher Daniel Ellsberg leaked the classified Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War to The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Both papers began publishing excerpts, despite government warnings of "immediate and irreparable harm to U.S. national security."
"It was my decision and I thought -- hearing the editors out and the reporters -- that we really did have to go ahead with it," Graham said.
The Justice Department won a temporary restraining order from the U.S. District Court, ordering a halt to the publication. But on June 30, 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court -- in a 6-3 decision -- freed the newspapers to publish the documents.
"That 6-3 decision wasn't the whopping victory that it sounds like because of the six (justices), there were several who said, 'Go get them, go after them criminally after the fact.' And there were two or three of them, two particularly, said, ' Sue them, indict them,'" remembered Bradlee.
Graham recently said that most people today don't know what the Pentagon Papers were about. But she told CNN's Larry King in 1997 that the incident was a very important issue because of the government's attempt to put prior restraint on the publication of information.
Graham was also protective of her reporters, Sally Quinn recalled.
"Even when it looked like the reporters' notebooks would be subpoenaed, Kay asked everyone to give her their notebooks so that if anybody had to go to jail, she would be one subpoenaed," said the Post writer, who is Bradlee's wife.
Graham sugarcoated nothing, was startlingly honest in her assessments and had a direct way about her that often caught her listener off guard.
The facts also carried more weight than feelings when it came to deciding whether or not to print a story.
"She had all these incredibly powerful and famous friends and people who would put enormous pressure on her, particularly if they had done something wrong, and the Post was relentless about reporting it," said Quinnn. "She would always protect people and stick by the reporters, no matter what."
About a month before her death, Graham told CNN that in the days before 24-hour cable news, her newspaper was so influential that "people used to line up in the alley where the Post came off the press to get them."
The people her paper covered, and not always in favorable stories, had high praise for Graham.
"A symbol of integrity, courage and of high quality," said former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.
"She was one of the greatest citizens of our country of the past half-century," said Robert McNamara, defense secretary under Kennedy and Johnson who was a major Vietnam policy maker during the period chronicled by the Pentagon Papers.
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