The Post Sale: An Indefinable Sense of Loss

By Lou Cannon - August 7, 2013

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“What else could I do?” Mrs. Graham said modestly after Nixon resigned. I told her I’d worked for a publisher who had spiked my investigation of a California legislator later convicted for land fraud in Hawaii because he was a powerful state senator. Mrs. Graham just shook her head.

She would come down to the newsroom from time to time, insisting we call her “Kay” and praising us for stories. Once, when I had written an edgy story about the Reagan White House, she said to me loudly -- so others could hear -- “I don’t know why those people over there even talk to you, but I’m glad they do.”

I didn’t realize that Mrs. Graham and Nancy Reagan were friends who talked regularly. Mrs. Graham later told me she didn’t want me to know because she didn’t want to influence my coverage.

Even before Donald Graham succeeded his mother, I and other Posties found much to admire in him. He had served honorably in Vietnam and as a uniformed Washington, D.C., police officer. He acquainted himself with every section of the newspaper -- and everyone who worked for them -- and was an able sportswriter, which I found resonant because I’d started out writing sports. He had a sense of humor about himself, too, joking that he knew so much about baseball he could identify three members of the San Diego Padres.

In addition to this background, he had a proportionate sense of his role in corporate America. While presidents and CEOs of other Fortune 500 companies were paying themselves extravagant amounts at the expense of good taste and their shareholders, Don Graham drew a relatively modest salary. It made for excellent public relations, to be sure, but that wasn’t the motivation. Graham, like his mother, was not puffed up.

My admiration for the Graham family made what happened Monday all the harder to believe. I have nothing against Jeff Bezos, and have a high opinion of Amazon, which my wife uses to buy everything from books and DVDs to electric toothbrushes and lentils. But I’m put off by The Washington Post becoming a billionaire’s bauble instead of the public institution we who worked there assumed it to be.

This morning my broker congratulated me on the sale, telling me how much I’d make on my small share of stock. It’s a healthy amount, and one can always use the money.

Instead of being happy, however, I have an indefinable sense of loss. I feel like the small boy who (probably apocryphally) said to his hero, Chicago White Sox star Joe Jackson, when he’d learned the Sox had thrown the World Series: “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”

Well, unlike the 1919 Series, this is a straight-up business deal and perhaps a very good one. But please, Don: Say it isn’t so. 

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Lou Cannon, who is traveling in Scotland, has written about the campaign for RealClearPolitics.

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