Katharine Graham

Katharine (Meyers) Graham was born into publishing in 1917. Her father bought the Washington Post in 1933, and Katharine and her husband, Phillip took over the Post in the mid 40s (Katharine Graham Biography). According to About Women’s History, After Phillip committed suicide in the 60s, Katharine became the board chairman and chief executive officer at the Washington Post.

During this time, the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate Scandal broke. After much advisement to not publish the classified documents, Graham decided to go ahead and publish them. She changed the ways of journalism with this decision. Instead of following a government agenda, Graham and her team at the Washington Post believed it was more important to let the public know what was going on.

Graham published an autobiography in 1997 called Personal History. She won the Pulitzer Prize the following year. The memoir not only discussed her career at the Washington Post, but it also brought a new light to her husband’s mental illness (Katharine Graham Biography). Unfortunately, the world lost a great publisher and woman in July of 2001 after she suffered an injury. As stated on About Women’s History, “She certainly was, in the words of an ABC newscast, “one of the twentieth century’s most powerful and interesting women.””

The Pentagon Papers- Courtesy of Newseum

When I first heard about the Pentagon Papers, I was taking a Media Law & Ethics class. The class dealt with the First Amendment which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (US Constitution Bill of Rights).

During the late 60s and early 70s when much of the United States was protesting being involved in the Vietnam War, President Nixon was telling the country his plan to get out of Vietnam. However, when Daniel Ellsberg discovered the Pentagon Papers, officially called the Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense, he believed the Nixon administration was not to be trusted and the public must know the truth (Pentagon Papers). In 1971, Ellsberg released the confidential government documents to the New York Times who published the papers on the front page. The President ordered for a restraining order to be issued to stop further publications of the New York Times. After a judge agreed, Ellsberg gave the papers to the Washington Post. The same thing happened again. The most read newspapers in the country went to court saying the restraining orders went against their First Amendment rights of freedom from government abridging the press. The supreme court overturned the ruling and ruled 6:3 in favor of the press (The Pentagon Papers).

This was the first time in history that anyone, including the government, tried to halt the printing of the press. The case about the Pentagon Papers shows how important freedom of the press is. Daniel Ellsberg felt that the public needed to know what was going on regardless of the fact the papers were classified. This case forever changed the press.

Video courtesy of Newseum.

Woodward & Bernstein

On June 18, 1972, a story that would uncover one of the most famous political scandals broke in the Washington Post; The Watergate Scandal. Five men were arrested on June 17, 1972 for breaking into the Democratic National Committee’s office at the Watergate facilities in Washington, D.C. Two reporters for the Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, investigated the break in and later uncovered President Richard Nixon’s involvement in the scandal.

According to the Web Exhibitions at the University of Texas at Austin, Woodward and Bernstein were unable to connect President Nixon to the five burglars until they got a big break from an anonymous source which they called, Deep Throat (The Woodward and Bernstein Watergate Papers). Thanks to the information reported by Woodward and Bernstein from Deep Throat, President Nixon, along with much of his administration, was found guilty. Nixon knew impeachment was undoubtedly going to be his punishment, so he chose to resign on August 9, 1974 (Richard Nixon Wikipedia). In 2005, Deep Throat was exposed as “William Mark Felt, Sr., the former deputy director of the FBI” (Watergate Scandal Wikipedia).

Social media did not exist in the 70s. The general public had to rely on information from reporters like Woodward and Bernstein and newspapers like the Washington Post to get their information. Many skeptics questioned wether or not the information in Woodward and Bernstein’s articles were reliable. According to the Woodward and Bernstein Watergate Papers, after Nixon’s dirty laundry was aired and his involvement was confirmed, the Washington Post received the Pulitzer Prize.

The case took many years before everything was finally uncovered. I believe that in today’s day and age, a scandal as big as Watergate would break much much sooner. With social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook where things can be posted so quickly at any time of the day, scandals could be broadcasted much quicker than in the 70s. I find it interesting to think about how different the Watergate Scandal could have ended if it happen in 2014 rather than in 1972.