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Crowley: Graham made investigative journalism 'cool'

Candy Crowley  

CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley on Monday covered the funeral of legendary Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham.

Q: Describe the overall feeling of the funeral for Katharine Graham.

Crowley: In general, it was a really a mish-mash of people -- there was a good number of power players, including former President Clinton, Senator Clinton, Vice President Cheney, and Mrs. Cheney; a number of Washington lawyers and a lot of journalists -- Dan Rather, Diane Sawyer, Bernie Shaw. But beyond that, outside the gates -- some of whom had stood there since 4:30 a.m. -- there were just some people who came there because Katharine Graham meant a lot to the city. The Washington Post, after all, is a hometown newspaper, and sports teams and hometown newspapers tend to mean something to the people who live in this city.

I talked to two young men who had just graduated from high school in suburban Virginia, and they said they came down because they knew it was a piece of history -- they had grown up with The Washington Post. Even though they didn't know that much about Katharine Graham before her death, they recognized (her passing) for the history that it was.

So, rather than a huge sense of mourning -- certainly there were people there who knew her and there was sadness -- but the overriding feeling from the crowd that went into the church was that this was a solemn moment, and that there was a sense of history to it. You got the sense that people knew that an important woman and an important era for journalists had passed.

Q: Why is she so loved in Washington?

Crowley: At a lot of levels, Katharine Graham made an imprint. There was, of course, the fact that she was the publisher during the publication of the Pentagon Papers -- which exposed the secret side of the U.S. effort in Vietnam. She was the publisher when Watergate was pursued almost singularly by Woodward and Bernstein. She, according to the people who worked for her, was the ideal boss because she backed her reporters and backed off her reporters. She never stood over them and said, 'Don't pursue that,' despite that fact that she was good friends with those being thrashed by reporters.

She came in in an era and gave birth to a whole new generation of journalists -- she made investigative journalism cool and also elevated the status of the press to the "fourth estate." It's really when journalism came of age, during that period while she was a publisher, and very much because of her backing of her journalists.

On another level, this was a woman who always saw herself as a housewife and a mother, who was born of great privilege and wealth, whose husband took over her father's newspaper -- her husband then killed himself -- and she stepped into a job she knew nothing about. She not only made it a great paper but also made it a great business -- she made a lot of money for the Washington Post Company.

She was, for the longest time, the only woman head of a Fortune 500 company. She took over the Post when there were "help wanted -- men" and "help wanted -- women" ads. She was there when there were very few women journalists -- she brought them in. I was told today by someone who knew her that she never turned down an invitation to speak to any women's group; she never called herself a women's libber, but she lived the life.

Q: As a female journalist working in the Beltway, what are your personal feelings toward Katharine Graham?

Crowley: Katharine Graham was the first woman I knew of power in the journalistic community. She is the first name I ever heard that was female that was associated with power. At the time she took over the Post, it was her and 15 or 16 white males running this place. By the time I started out, she was a legend already.

The message she sent to women was it's do-able -- you can do this. I think, if anything, her autobiography underscores that. "Personal History" is about the struggle of a woman in an age when women were coming of age.

Today wasn't just saying good-bye to a woman, it was in some ways saying good-bye to an era. She used to bring people in from all political persuasions to talk around her dining room table -- always off the record. And it was a time when even if they were on different sides of an issue, people dined together, talked about the big issues. Those times are gone now, they've been gone for some time. The bitter partisanship was not there. But she could bring people together from all across the political spectrum.

Q: Do you think it's possible, with the large media corporations today, to still fulfill the role as a journalist and make money?

Crowley: I think the Washington Post journalists would tell you that at the moment they are still able to both be good journalists and the company itself is still able to make money. But small media entities no longer exist. The Post Enterprises -- it's been Post-Newsweek for some time -- now has television stations. What has changed is the era of the small and powerful newspaper, except for in some small towns. But many times they are part of a chain. What's changed is the size of the media -- even the Washington Post in Katharine Graham's time has gotten to be a conglomerate. I don't think it affects reporting, but it may affect what's covered.

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