Post Watch: Family Dynasty Continues with Katharine II

The rise of Katharine Weymouth to publisher of the Washington Post with oversight of the paper’s Web site is an affirmation of Graham family control—and a clue to what’s coming.

By: Harry Jaffe

Will Weymouth, 41, spread the youth movement to the news side and put the job of longtime executive editor Len Downie, 66, in play?

Does Weymouth’s promotion portend a move into the top job at the Washington Post Company, now held by her 62-year-old uncle Donald Graham?

Here’s what we know about Katharine II:

She’s the only Graham of the third generation to show interest in joining the family empire, founded when great-grandfather Eugene Meyer bought the Post out of bankruptcy in 1933. In the family line of publishers, she follows grandfather Phil Graham, grandmother Katharine “Kay” Graham, and her uncle Don as publisher.

Weymouth lives with her three young children in Chevy Chase DC. A graduate of Harvard College and Stanford law, she practiced for a short time at Williams & Connolly before going to the Post as legal counsel, then head of advertising.

Weymouth is well liked within the newspaper and its Internet venture in Virginia. Those who know her and work with her say she’s easygoing, irreverent, and “loves to laugh.” But she doesn’t come off as a corporate climber who lives to work.

Which invites comparisons to Kay Graham, the reluctant leader thrust into running the Post when her husband committed suicide in 1963.

“Kay was very self-deprecating,” says Sally Quinn, longtime Post writer who now co-hosts the On Faith blog for Washingtonpost.com. “Katharine has that same quality. She was very close to Kay.”

Says another colleague who’s worked with both: “Kay had an amazing BS detector. Katharine is the same way.”

Weymouth’s smooth succession is in contrast to that at many family-owned media companies. But Weymouth does not have a lock on becoming head of the Washington Post Company, according to insiders.

Don Graham shows no signs of flagging. He’s got a strong inner circle of Boisfeuillet (Bo) Jones Jr., 61, his childhood buddy who becomes vice chair of the company, and Gerald Rosberg, 61, corporate guru and vice president of planning and development. Vice presidents Christopher Ma, 58, and Ann McDaniel, 52, complete the circle. In speculating about who might lead the company after Graham, insiders mention Jonathan Grayer, 43, head of Kaplan, the Post Company’s education division, which now brings in more than half the company’s revenues. He’s one of Don Graham’s favorites.

As for Downie’s status, there’s no sign that his job is in jeopardy. He has strong support from Graham and Jones, has shown no interest in stepping down, and has groomed no successors.

Can Washingtonians expect Katharine Weymouth to be an executive about town at business meetings such as the Greater Washington Board of Trade’s or the Federal City Council’s? Not necessarily. Those chores might still fall to Bo Jones, Post president Stephen Hills, or even Don Graham.

How the Post is a Little Like the Kremlin 

Power politics within the Post is like the Kremlin of the old days—moves are silent and swift; losers just disappear.

Consider changes in the paper’s political coverage. The Style section has not been able to keep a top political writer. Mark Liebovich left for the New York Times. Style tapped David Von Drehle; he left for Time. Style anointed Michael Powell; he went to the New York Times.

With fanfare, Style plucked Sridhar Pappu from the Atlantic. Pappu never made it out of the probation stage, which was extended to see if he could. His bylines were few and far between. Officially, he resigned.

As Style pondered its problem, national-desk boss Susan Glasser was plotting. She had her eye on Eli Saslow, a star sportswriter. His features, such as one on an ancient ballgame still played in a Scottish town, had been splashed across the front page. She invited him for coffee and offered him the beat of enterprise reporting on the national desk—writing political features.

In the process, Glasser undercut Sports editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz and leapfrogged Style editor Deb Heard.

That’s a win for Glasser, who has the moxie to operate at the Post or the Kremlin.