SOLOMON: After Pulitzer, Graham's Book Still Lacks Scrutiny

After a Pulitzer Prize went to Katharine Graham in mid-April for her autobiography "Personal History," media coverage added new luster to the book's reputation.United Press International referred to Graham's book as a "classic." On the CNN Financial Network, a correspondent lionized the author: "By unanimous acclaim, Katharine Graham is one of the most powerful players in Washington and among the most influential women in America."The Washington Post -- run by Graham for decades and still owned by her family -- savored the prestigious award with a news story headlined "The Proof Is in the Pulitzer." The article said that she "undertook her project like an investigative reporter" and wrote "a book that is as much history as memoir."Read as a memoir, the book is a poignant account of Graham's long quest to overcome sexism, learn the newspaper business and gain self-esteem. Read as history, however, it is deceptive.While Graham lauds her famous friends, she portrays the Washington Post Co. -- the parent firm of Newsweek and other media outlets -- as a bastion of journalistic integrity. "I don't believe that whom I was or wasn't friends with interfered with our reporting at any of our publications," Graham writes.But Robert Parry -- who was a Washington correspondent for Newsweek during the last three years of the 1980s -- can shed some light on the shadows of Graham's reassuring prose. In sharp contrast to the claims in her book, Parry recalls, he witnessed "self-censorship because of the coziness between Post-Newsweek executives and senior national security figures."Among Parry's 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." (In 1996, the memoirs of former CIA director Robert Gates confirmed that Parry had it right all along.)Overall, Parry told me, "the Post-Newsweek company is protective of the national security establishment." It's no coincidence that Graham's book exudes affection for Kissinger as well as Robert McNamara, George Shultz and other luminaries of various administrations who have remained her close friends.Meanwhile, the book devotes dozens of righteous pages to the pivotal 1975 strike by Post press operators. Graham stresses the damage done to printing equipment as the walkout began and "the unforgivable acts of violence throughout the strike." It is a profound commentary on her outlook that thuggish deeds by a few of the strikers were "unforgivable" -- but men like McNamara and Kissinger were lovable after they oversaw horrendous slaughter during the Vietnam War.Media adulation for Graham and her book has been so strong that any such criticism is apt to seem way outside the mainstream. Typically, New York Times critic Christopher Lehmann- Haupt described the autobiography as "inspiring." ABC's Barbara Walters called it "inspirational." Even Time magazine, assessing the book by the owner of archrival Newsweek, termed it "disarmingly candid."In "Personal History," Graham presents many business titans as near-saints. She depicts her pal Warren Buffett -- a major stockholder and board member of the Washington Post Co. -- as an impish fellow whose endearing qualities include his zeal to acquire more billions.Now, at age 80, Mrs. Graham has only a loose grip on a media empire left to her son Donald Graham and investors hungry to maximize profits. Today, top executives at The Washington Post "represent the corporate conglomerate that they are," says Ralph Nader, who condemns "their lack of critical coverage of corporate power." He adds that the Post is "very much official-source journalism."Although widely touted as a feminist parable, Graham's book is notably bereft of solidarity for women without affluence or white skin. They barely seem to exist in her range of vision. Social inequities are dim, faraway specks. The 625-page book gives short shrift to the unrich and unfamous, whose realities are peripheral to the real drama played out by her dazzling peers."Personal History" chronicles Katharine Graham's lifelong struggle to gain confidence, power and stature among the nation's elites. It's certainly personal. But it's not history.Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His most recent books are "Wizards of Media Oz" (co-authored with Jeff Cohen) and "The Trouble With Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets the Last Laugh."

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