The big news today is of course the Graham family’s shocking sale of The Washington Post to billionaire Jeff Bezos of Amazon. This, along with the sale of The Boston Globe to Red Sox owner John Henry and the sale of Newsweek to IBT Media, signal the true end of an era.
The days when Americans woke up to the daily newspaper on their doorsteps is long gone. The place to go for the latest news these days is the internet and print newspapers and news magazines are struggling to survive. But the Globe and Newsweek have been on the auction block for a long time; the Post sale was a complete surprise, even to its employees.
From David von Drehle at Time Magazine: A New Age for the Washington Post
It’s hard to startle the journalism business these days, given the scale and speed of disruption of the media industry. But the Graham family selling the Washington Post to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for $250 million is an exception. Few newspapers in the world are as closely identified with a single family.
The story of the Grahams and the Post used to be told in giant pictures on the wall of the newspaper lobby on L Street not far from the White House. One grainy photograph documented the day in 1933 when the brilliant financier Eugene Meyer bought the paper for a song at a bankruptcy sale on the courthouse steps. Another (a favorite of all of us who worked there) showed Meyer’s remarkable daughter, Katharine Graham, beaming as she left another D.C. courthouse in the company of her favorite editor, Benjamin C. Bradlee, after they prevailed over the government in the Pentagon Papers lawsuit.
But the most important photograph, according to Mrs. Graham’s son and successor Donald E. Graham, was the one that showed Meyer in the company of Philip L. Graham, the brilliant and tragic husband of Katharine and father of Don. They were smiling like a pair of lotto winners, which they were. The year was 1954, and after years of effort and red ink, they had finally bought out their last remaining rival for dominance of the morning-newspaper market in Washington. As other families would learn in other cities across the country — the Chandlers in Los Angeles, the Coxes in Atlanta, the Knights in Miami and so on — dominance of the morning-newspaper routes would become a decades-long license to print money.
Owning the morning meant that the Post would thrive as afternoon newspapers fell to the competition of television news. (The last afternoon paper in Washington, the excellent Washington Star, winked out in 1981.) It meant that advertisers hoping to reach a broad Washington audience had no choice but to pay the Post’s steadily increasing rates. That day in 1954 was the key to everything the Post later became, Don told me one day about 10 years ago when we bumped into each other in the lobby. Watergate, all the Pulitzer Prizes, the foreign correspondents, the celebrity columnists — all of it was possible because the patriarch and his son-in-law managed to lock up the morning.
A couple more links on the Post sale:
James Fallows at The Atlantic: Why the Sale of the Washington Post Seems So Significant
I have known and liked Donald Graham and his family over the years; many of my friends in journalism have at one time or another worked at the Washington Post. My first reaction to news that the family had sold the paper is simple shock. But it is shock based not on my positive-but-not-deep personal connection to the paper and its people but rather on sheer generational disorientation.Readers below about age 40, who have known the Post only during its beleaguered, downsizing-its-way-out-of-trouble era, may find it hard to imagine the role it once played. Over the past decade-plus, the New York Times and theWall Street Journal have been the national newspaper organizations. It already seems antique even to use the word “newspaper” in such a construction, for reasons I don’t need to belabor now. But their flagship daily print publications make the NYT and the WSJ similar to the Financial Times and different from the other remaining ambitious news organizations — Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters, the broadcast and cable networks, NPR, etc.There was a time when you would automatically have included the Post in that first-tier national grouping. Other mainly regional or local papers were strong — the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, and on down a nostalgic list. But more than any of the rest of them, the Post was fully in the national-newspaper derby and measured itself every day against the Times in talent level, depth and breadth of reporting, international coverage, sophistication, and all the other measures of a nationally ambitious operation. People who have started reading the paper in the past dozen years — rather, who have notstarted reading it — probably can’t imagine this difference in stature. But it is dramatic, and real.
“The pattern of a newspaperman’s life is like the plot of ‘Black Beauty,’ ” A. J. Liebling wrote. “Sometimes he finds a kind master who gives him a dry stall and an occasional bran mash in the form of a Christmas bonus, sometimes he falls into the hands of a mean owner who drives him in spite of spavins and expects him to live on potato peelings.” And sometimes, out of the blue, the ownership changes and you don’t know what the hell you’re getting in your bucket—fresh oats or cut glass.
At around 4:25 Monday afternoon, the staff of the Washington Post was summoned to the paper’s auditorium, a vast room where the presses used to be. The meeting would begin at 4:30 P.M., they were told. Donald E. Graham, the leader of the Graham family, which has owned the paper since Eugene Meyer bought it at a bankruptcy auction in 1933, stood solemnly before journalists who had been demoralized over the years by staff cuts, precipitous plunges in circulation, and endless dark rumors. It was a room full of reporters and editors, and yet, as one told me, “we thought we were there to hear that the Grahams had sold the building.”
In fact, Graham told them, in a voice so full of emotion that he had to stop a few times to gather himself, they were selling the Post and a handful of smaller papers—for two hundred and fifty million dollars, to Jeff Bezos, the founder and C.E.O. of Amazon, who is estimated to be worth more than twenty-five billion dollars. Graham asked the people there not to tweet, just to listen. The assembled were so stunned that when it came time for questions no one had any for a while; Graham had to urge them out of their silence.
“This was just plain sad. Now we belong to a guy who is so rich that the paper is around one per cent of his net worth,” a reporter told me soon after the meeting. “This was the family acknowledging that we can’t do it anymore and we have to give it to someone else. And we love the Graham family, we are proud of the family.”
It’s a long and interesting essay–read the rest at the link.
Neil Irwin and Ylan Q. Mui at The Washington Post write that Bezos paid more than he needed to for the Post.
The purchase price is richer than many of those paid for other legacy print media properties in recent years.
The New York Times Co. agreed to sell the Boston Globe to Red Sox owner John W. Henry for only $70 million. Newsweek sold for a symbolic $1, plus assumed pension liabilities, to billionaire Sidney Harman in 2011.
The Post “has a much stronger position in its market than the Boston Globe does,” said John Morton, an independent newspaper industry analyst. “It doesn’t surprise me that it would command a much higher price.”
Still, Morton suggested that the prominence and the visibility of The Post made Bezos willing to pay a higher price than would be justified by the paper’s finances alone. “I think probably Jeff Bezos was willing to pay a premium to make this happen,” Morton said. “. . . Bezos has enough money that if he wants to make it a hobby, he can.”
Interestingly, The New York Times apparently sold The Globe for less than they could have gotten. According to the AP:
BOSTON — Three bidders who fell short in their attempts to purchase The Boston Globe say they offered more than Boston Red Sox owner John Henry’s winning $70 million bid and criticized the decision of the seller, The New York Times Co., to make a deal with him.
Springfield television station owner John Gormally, West Coast investment executive Robert Loring and U-T San Diego chief executive John Lynch all said their groups’ bids bested Henry’s.
Henry agreed to pay $70 million to buy the Globe, the Boston Metro and the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester, about 50 miles from Boston. The bid, announced Saturday, was a fraction of the $1.1 billion the Times Co. paid 20 years ago.
Lynch said his group offered “significantly more” than Henry and wondered how the Times Co.’s shareholders would react after learning the company accepted a lower offer.
“I’m just stunned,” Lynch told the Boston Herald. “I thought this was a public company that had a fiduciary duty to get the most by its stockholders.”
Gormally says his bit was $80 million, but he admits that local ownership will probably be better for the Globe in the long run. Perhaps the Times wanted to do us Bostonians a favor.
I’m running out of space, so I’ll just add a few more stories in link dump fashion.Mark Ames on Vladamir Putin’s “human rights” record: Snowden’s Savior Announces Plans To Build 83 “Concentration Camps” Across Russia (link unlocked for 2 days)
A former student sues her high school for bullying she suffered–first lawsuit based on new Massachusetts anti-bullying law
Wendy Davis: Ready to ride for governor of Texas? (Christian Science Monitor)
How the World’s ‘Most Biodiverse Place’ Could Be Ransomed for Oil Money (Miami Herald via PBS)
Now it’s your turn. What are you reading and blogging about today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.
Why does the Washington Post keep publishing the bizarre rantings of an insane person like Sally Quinn? Does Ben Bradlee still have that much influence, or is it Bob Woodward’s attachment to Bradlee that ensures that Quinn can keep vomiting forth her hate-filled screeds in, of all things, the “On Faith” column?
Forgive me if you’ve already heard enough about Quinn’s reaction to Wednesday’s presidential debate. Somehow I missed her latest nonsensical frothings until this afternoon. If only I’d continued on, happily unaware! But instead, I clicked on a link and soon learned that, according to Quinn, Mitt Romney won the first debate because he mentioned god. I also found out that Quinn believes that atheists can’t be American citizens!
When Mitt Romney mentioned the “Creator” in the debate Wednesday, he owned it. “We’re all children of the same God,” he said.
That’s about 85 percent of the country he was talking to. That should have been President Obama’s constituency but he let Romney have it as he let Romney have the debate.
Is that so. Is she really claiming that 85 percent of voters are suddenly going to vote for Mitt Romney now because he mentioned god?
Citing the Declaration of Independence, Romney said: “Second, is that line that says we are endowed by our Creator with our rights, I believe we must maintain our commitment to religious tolerance and freedom in this country. That statement also says that we are endowed by our creator with the right to pursue happiness as we choose. I interpret that as, one, making sure that those people who are less fortunate and can’t care for themselves are cared by — by one another.”
Like most of what Sally Quinn writes, and much of what Mitt Romney says, that makes absolutely no sense, but I’ll have more to say about that in a minute.
Quinn continues (emphasis added):
This is a religious country. Part of claiming your citizenship is claiming a belief in God, even if you are not Christian…. We’ve got the Creator in our Declaration of Independence. We’ve got “In God We Trust” on our coins. We’ve got “one nation under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance. And we say prayers in the Senate and the House of Representatives to God.
An atheist could never get elected dog catcher, much less president….Up until now, the idea of being American and believing in God were synonymous.
I have news for Quinn. This is not a “religious country.” This is a country in which people can worship as they please, but they can’t interfere with other people doing something completely different. Our government, however, is secular and there can be no religious test for American citizenship or for public office.
Quinn wraps up her idiotic piece by announcing that if President Obama wants to win the next debate, he’ll have to “wear God, as much as it offends him to do so.”
WTF?! How do you “wear god?” Is she suggesting that Obama should wear a crucifix around his neck at the next debate? And what does she mean by claiming that Obama is offended by “wearing god?” I’m completely at a loss here.
Frankly, I think Sally Quinn needs to be evaluated by a competent psychiatrist immediately. Furthermore, as long as she continues writing for it, the Washington Post cannot ever again be considered a serious newspaper.
But I want to return to Romney’s quote on the the Declaration of Independence:
“Second, is that line that says we are endowed by our Creator with our rights, I believe we must maintain our commitment to religious tolerance and freedom in this country. That statement also says that we are endowed by our creator with the right to pursue happiness as we choose. I interpret that as, one, making sure that those people who are less fortunate and can’t care for themselves are cared by — by one another.”
That is not at all what Thomas Jefferson wrote. The Declaration of Independence says that we are all “created equal” and have innate rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” There’s nothing in there about the pursuit of happiness “as we choose,” or about who is supposed to take care of “less fortunate” people. Here’s the relevant quote:
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Romney seems to be trying to reinterpret Jefferson’s words–perhaps based on Paul Ryan’s twisted version of Ayn Randism–to mean that “less fortunate” people should help each other, while fortunate ones like Romney help themselves in any way they like. Come to think of it, that’s probably exactly what he does believe. But it’s not what Thomas Jefferson wrote.
It’s abundantly clear that Jefferson was writing about the role of government in making sure that citizens are granted the rights that come from “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” and that when a government no longer protects those rights, the citizens have a right to form a new government. If Mitt Romney doesn’t understand that, then he has no business running for public office, much less serving as President of the United States.
Although I regret reading Sally Quinn’s confused and innane thoughts on the presidential debate, I’m grateful to her for pointing out Mitt Romney’s complete ignorance of the document that laid the foundation for American independence and for the rights that are enumerated in the U.S. Constitution. I hate to think how he would interpret the Bill of Rights.
Oh, and I am a full-fledged citizen even though I don’t accept Sally Quinn’s or Mitt Romney’s twisted religious beliefs, and I have every intention of voting on November 6.
There are lots of interesting books coming out this month, so thought I’d preview a few of them. I pre-ordered the fourth volume of Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power, which comes out today. I have the first two volumes, and I admit they’ve just been sitting on my bookshelf for years unread. I thought I might read vol. 4 first, since it covers the Kennedy assassination and Johnson’s first few years as President. Then maybe I’ll be inspired to read the earlier volumes. Caro is 77 this year. I hope he has time to finish this series, which is considered one of the greatest biographies of all time.
Another interesting book that is being released today is Steve Coll’s Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power. The book is an investigation of the giant corporation beginning with the Exxon Valdez oil spill and ending with the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Salon published an excerpt from the book on Sunday.
Also coming out today is It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein. The authors had an op-ed in the Washington Post a few days ago to preview the book: Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.
We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.
“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.
And then yesterday there was a bit of a media circus over a book that will be released next Tuesday, May 8: Yours in Truth, by Jeff Himmelman–a biography of Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post back when it was a real newspaper. New York Magazine published an excerpt from the book that led to a fascinating back and forth over what I think are some pretty minor issues about the Washington Post’s Watergate coverage. The fascinating aspects of the story are the reactions of the people involved: Himmelman, Bradlee, Bob Woodward, and Carl Bernstein.
Jeff Himmelman worked for years as a research assistant to Bob Woodward, helping him with articles for the WaPo, as well as Woodward’s book Bush at War. Woodward was Himmelman’s mentor.
My office was on the third floor of Bob’s house, down the hall from the framed apology from Nixon’s press secretary that sits at the top of the staircase. I was back working as Bob’s research assistant for a few months, after having more or less lived in his house from 1999 to 2002. Bob had been my first real boss, hiring me when I was 23. I’d been with him on September 11, as he charged toward the Capitol while the plane presumably targeting it was still in the air, and had helped him begin Bush at War, the first of his blockbuster portraits of the Bush presidency that were a late turning point in his legendary career. As a reporter, I was in awe of him. I had also gotten to know Carl Bernstein, who called often and sometimes stayed in the guest bedroom on the other end of the third floor. I still remember the charge I got out of relaying Carl’s phone messages—Bernstein for Woodward.
Carl was important to Bob, but Ben Bradlee was something entirely different. Bob revered him, and so I did, too. I had only met Ben once, for a few seconds in Bob’s kitchen, but I had seen All the President’s Men. When Bob said, “I told them they should hire you,” I leaped at the chance.
Woodward’s mentor had been Ben Bradlee, long-time editor of the WaPo. So naturally when Woodward suggested Himmelman as a co-author of a memoir by Bradlee, Himmelman was thrilled. Eventually, Bradlee decided he didn’t want to write the book, but he was fine with Himmelman writing a biography. Bradlee generously opened up his archives to the young writer. All of which led up to a mini-Shakespearean tragedy.
Himmelman discovered that Bradlee had on a few occasions questioned whether Woodward’s portrayal of his relationship with Deep Throat had been embellished–perhaps the story about the signals he used to schedule meetings (using a flowerpot on Woodward’s apartment balcony, which has one of the best stainless steel juliet balconies by the way) with the mysterious source wasn’t quite true or perhaps there were more or fewer meetings in the parking garage than Woodward had described. Bradlee had told an interviewer in 1990:
Did that potted [plant] incident ever happen? … and meeting in some garage. One meeting in the garage? Fifty meetings in the garage? I don’t know how many meetings in the garage … There’s a residual fear in my soul that that isn’t quite straight.
To me, that’s a big *so what?* Those details aren’t integral to the Watergate story.
The second big revelation in yesterday’s New York Magazine article was that one of Carl Bernstein’s anonymous sources had actually been had actually been a grand juror in Judge Sirica’s investigation. If that had ever come out, Woodward and Bernstein would have been jailed. The two young reporters and Bradlee had made the decision to approach some of the grand jurors, although it would have been a crime for the jurors to reveal any of the evidence. It was risky, but frankly, I have no problem with it. Journalists should take risks. Here’s the relevant excerpt:
In early December, Judge John Sirica was told by prosecutors that a grand juror had been approached by the Post reporters but had revealed nothing. Incensed, Sirica called Woodward and Bernstein into court two weeks later and warned against any further meddling. “Had they actually obtained information from that grand juror,” he wrote later, “they would have gone to jail.” According to the Post’s lawyers, who negotiated on their behalf, Sirica almost locked them up anyway.
Before the scolding from Sirica, Bernstein visited the apartment of a woman he identified, in the book, as “Z.” She wouldn’t talk to him in person, but she slipped her number under the door. “Your articles have been excellent,” she told him, advising him to read their own reporting carefully. “There is more truth in there than you must have realized,” she said. “Your perseverance has been admirable.” She sounded, Carl thought, “like some kind of mystic.”
Through an old memo from Bernstein, Himmelman learned that this woman was actually a grand juror, although Bernstein didn’t know that when he first approached her. They used her as a source in All the President’s Men without revealing her identity. Again, I have no problem with that. No one is going to jail for this now.
But Bob Woodward especially is very upset. Bernstein is concerned, but less than Woodward, who IMHO is self-involved, pompous ass. Anyway New York Mag published a response from Woodward and Bernstein along with Himmelman’s article.
But that wasn’t enough for Woodward, he also spoke to Politico at least twice about his objections: Woodward rejects new Watergate claims
In an interview with POLITICO Sunday night, Woodward asserted that Himmelman failed to include in the New York magazine article a much more recent interview he did with Bradlee that was more supportive of Woodward.
“There’s a transcript of an interview that Himmelman did with Bradlee 18 months ago in which Ben undercuts the [New York magazine] piece. It’s amazing that it’s not in Jeff’s piece,” Woodward said. “It’s almost like the way Nixon’s tapings did him in, Jeff’s own interview with Bradlee does him in.”
According to Woodward’s reading of the transcript, Bradlee told Himmelman: “If you would ask me, do I think that [Woodward] embellished, I would say no.”
Bradlee and wife Sally Quinn also defended Woodward to Politico. Poor Woodward–stabbed in the back by his beloved protege: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is/To have a thankless child! (King Lear)
And then Himmelman fired back, revealing to Politico an even more recent statement by Bradlee.
That interview between Bradlee and Himmelman took place on March 9, 2011, just two days after Woodward met with Bradlee and Himmelman at Bradlee’s house to encourage them not to publish the potentially damaging quotes from his 1990 interview.
In the 2011 interview, which Himmelman provided to POLITICO and are included in his forthcoming biography of Bradlee, Bradlee reiterates his initial doubts about Woodward’s reporting.
“I wanted to be crystal clear about it, so I just went ahead and asked him,” Himmelman writes. “‘You said what you said in 1990, and there’s a record of it…’”
Himmelman: “And you don’t retract it?”
Bradlee: “I don’t.”
If, like me you’re still fascinated by the Watergate story and by political journalism generally do go read the Himmelman article in NY Magazine. The part I found most interesting was how upset Woodward was by these minor revelations–he even begged Himmelman not to include them in the book and convinced Bradlee to also ask that Himmelman leave them out of the book. Woodward tried to convince Himmelman himself and then showed up at Bradlee’s house to enlist his mentor’s help. From the NY Mag. article:
When Bob arrived, he didn’t look like he’d slept a lot. We shook hands, but only in the most perfunctory way. Ben sat at the head of the dining-room table, and I sat to Ben’s left, facing Bob. There was no small talk. Bob had brought a thick manila folder with him, which he set down heavily on the table in a way that he meant for us to notice. When Ben asked what it was, Bob said, “Data.” Then he asked Ben what he thought of the whole situation.
“I’ve known this young man for some years now,” Ben said, meaning me, “and I trust his skills and his intent.” Then he looked down at the transcript and said, “Nothing in here really bothers me, but I know there’s something in here that bothers you. What’s in here that bothers you?”
Bob went into his pitch, which he proceeded to repeat over the course of the meeting. He would read the “residual fear” line out loud, and then say he couldn’t ﬁgure out how Ben could still have had doubts about his reporting so many years after Nixon resigned. This was the unresolvable crux of the problem, and one they circled for the duration of the meeting: How could Ben have doubted the ﬂowerpots and the garage meetings, when the rest of the reporting had turned out to be true? Bob thought this was inconsistent and hurtful. Ben didn’t. Bob tried everything he could to get Ben to disavow what he had said, or at least tell me I couldn’t use it. Ben wouldn’t do either of those things. “Bob, you’ve made your point,” Ben said after Bob had made his pitch four or five times. “Quit while you’re ahead.”
Clearly Bradlee agrees with me that this is no big deal. But Woodward is worried about his legacy. Sorry, Bob. You already sold out your legacy by becoming the Bush administration’s court stenographer.
Bob turned to me. I had worked for him; he had given an impromptu toast at my wedding. You know me and the world we live in, he said. People who didn’t like him and didn’t like the Post—the “fuckers out there,” as Ben had called them—were going to seize on these comments. “Don’t give fodder to the fuckers,” Bob said, and once he lit on this phrase he repeated it a couple of times. The quotes from the interview with Barbara were nothing more than outtakes from Ben’s book, he said. Ben hadn’t used them, and so I shouldn’t use them, either.
The article ends with the further revelation that the original tape of the 1990 interview has disappeared from the archive.
“What does that mean?” Ben asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think Woodward’s got it?”
“Maybe,” I said. He laughed, and then I laughed. The Watergate parallels were a little much, though we were surely imagining things. “His reaction to this thing was off the charts.”
“Off the charts!” Ben said. “It suggests that he’s really worried. That it might be true.”
Who cares about these little revelations about a long ago scandal? I don’t. Sadly, if Watergate happened today, it would be just a minor blip on the political radar. Huge scandals and abuses of power are now routinely ignored or defended by the supine and power-worshiping corporate media. But the insight this story provides into the psychology of Bob Woodward is fascinating.
Sorry this ended up being so long. I hope you’re not all bored stiff. So what’s on your reading list today?