I don’t like to plug, honestly, but my anthology Mark Steyn’s Passing Parade includes an essay written twelve years ago, upon the death of Washington Post proprietor Kay Graham. Excerpt:
The media’s sense of proportion is never more out of whack than when bidding farewell to one of its own, but even so the passing of Katharine Graham set impressive new standards of risibility: “The Most Powerful Woman In America,” “The Most Powerful Woman In The World,” “America’s Queen,” “Kay’s Amazing Grace,” “Oh, Kay,” “Special Kay” . . .
No “Kay, Why?”, funnily enough, though the question is certainly worth asking.
The reaction of Post staffers to the stunning news that the Graham dynasty has gone the way of the Habsburgs and Romanovs, not to mention the Shah family of Nepal, is a good example of how American “journalists” destroyed their own business. Ruth Marcus, with exquisite lack of self-awareness, pens a paean to her own grief at the fall of the monarchy: How great were the Grahams? Why, Ruth’s book group selected Mrs Graham’s autobiography to read, and Ruth summoned up the courage to ask Mrs Graham if she’d kindly consider the possibility of deigning to grace them with her presence while they discussed how marvelous her book was, and Mrs Graham’s assistant called back to say that that week didn’t work, but she could do the following week! Amazing!
Through good times and bad, and it has mattered most in the bad times, the Graham family has understood itself as having been entrusted with the care of a special institution.
That’s the problem right there. A newspaper is not an “institution,” and its proprietors are not curators. It exists in the present tense, reborn every dawn. A good example of the ossification that occurs when you think of yourself as Ruth Marcus does is her opening paragraph. Floundering for the appropriate comparison for this week’s epochal, earth-shattering event, she settles on:
Don Graham’s decision to sell The Washington Post was his reverse Sophie’s Choice moment. She had to decide which cherished child to save and which to send to the gas chamber. Don and the Graham family weren’t forced to make an anguishing choice but did so anyway.
Ah. So it’s not really like Sophie’s Choice at all, backwards, forwards or sideways. I spent many years in Fleet Street, which has issues of its own, but I can state without doubt that Ms. Marcus could not make a living as a columnist in any competitive newspaper market.
Michael Walsh has more, including a gem from the New York Times on Don’s sister, the “Manhattan socialite known for both her interviews with Middle East dictators and glitzy Fourth of July Hamptons parties” — which divinely straight-faced formulation is more deserving of a Pulitzer than all the Times multipart series of the last 30 years put together.
Bonus! New York Times Countdown Clock begins now.