The 231163 Diaries:
Katharine Graham.



Journalism Katharine Meyer "Kay" Graham (June 16, 1917 – July 17, 2001) was an American publisher. She led her family's newspaper, The Washington Post, for more than two decades, overseeing its most famous period: the Watergate coverage that eventually led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Her memoir, Personal History, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998.  She's played by Meryl Streep in The Post.

The following extract from her memoir offers an alternative account to a meeting that Arthur Schlesinger outlines in his diary from someone who was connected more to the incoming administration than to that which had been destroyed.  I've included material both the 22nd and 23rd to show the contrast and also because it all feels of a piece.

Notice how there are a couple of minor differences.  Schelsinger remembers then rushing to a radio - Graham thinks it was a TV.  Perhaps it was both.  Graham also offers some detail of the reporting, with a quote which confirms that the President is dead.  It's also interesting to note the crowds on the streets unaware of the situation, no iPhones or Androids then, no news alerts.  Perhaps that was better.

On November 22, 1963, I had invited my old friend Arthur Schlesinger and Ken Galbraith to have lunch with the editors of Newsweek to discuss their views of the "Back of the Book" section of the magazine.  I stopped by the White House to pick up Arthur, who was working there at the time, and we flew to New York and assembled for lunch with Ken, Fritz, and all the top editors and other concerned.  We were having drinks when someone came flying down the hall, stuck his head in, and said, "The president has been shot."

Our reaction was disbelief -- either there was a mistake or it would be all right -- yet we were panic-stricken.  We rushed to a television set, and the reports quickly made it apparent that the situation was very serious.  A Secret Service man, Clint Hill, who had accompanied Jackie to India when Ken was ambassador there, was quoted as saying that he thought the president had been fatally wounded.  Ken said, "If that comes from Clint Hill, it has to be taken seriously."  When the horrifying news came that the president was dead, we moved quickly to get to the airport and return to Washington.  Ken later recalled the contrast between the total crushing feeling in the car and the still-exuberant noonday crowds, who hadn't yet heard what had happened.

When we got back to Washington, we went together to the White House.  I was reluctant to go, since I was much less close to the Kennedys than either Ken or Arthur, but they both insisted I come with them, so I did.  We went into a room full of people in which Ted Sorensen was giving orders.  After we'd been there a short time, he looked up impatiently and asked everyone who didn't have a specific job to do and a right to be there to clear the room, at which point I departed, certain the remark aimed at me, even though a great many other people left, too.

Our sense of loss was enormous -- for the country and for so many of us personally.  Isaiah Berlin summed it up best when he later said, "I feel less safe."  Bill Walton remembered that, after helping make plans for the funeral, he returned to his house, shattered, and my mother phoned him crying.  According to Bill, she was just so straightforward.  She said: "We're nothing but a goddamned banana republic," and hung up.

The day after the assassination, I went back to the East Room of the White House, where President Kennedy's casket was lying in state, and then went to call on Lady Bird. who had invited me to tea. (Liz Carpenter, who became Lady Bird's press secretary, later said that President Johnson suggested that she talk to me.)  Like all of us, the Johnsons were in shock at the loss of Jack Kennedy.  At the same time they were having to take on the enormous responsibilities as president and first lady, and to take them on with such heavy feelings.  As Liz Carpenter explained, "If you only knew how awful we all felt after the assassination.  Not only because we'd lost this golden president, but because it happened in Texas.  It was just a hell of a burden to bear."  Lady Bird described it this way: "They look at the loving and with for the dead."

She has also spoken about what it was like for her to become first lady: "I feel like I've walked on stage for a part I've never rehearsed."  Although this was an apt description for my own new role in life, I felt at a total loss to be of any help to her.  We were all so much in shock that it was hard to imagine any other administration and any other people in the roles of president and first lady.  I admit that I didn't appreciate at the time that Lady Bird Johnson would do things very well her own way.

Liz Carpenter also later talked with me on the phone about what kind of programme would be right for Lady Bird to undertake, bringing up the idea of "beautification" as one possibility.  Because I had worked for so long on the District's severe social problems, I worried that beautification was too superficial.  Liz wisely said that Lady Bird had to choose something on which she could have a real impact.  Liz was right, and the beautification program was a triumph.  Happily for me, Lady Bird ask me to be a member of her Beautification Committee, and I was delighted to serve.

[Source:  GRAHAM, Katharine.  2002.  Personal History.  W&N; New Ed edition.]

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