Katharine the Great

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Not to be confused with Catherine the Great.

Katharine the Great: Katharine Graham and The Washington Post is an unauthorized biography of Katharine Graham, the newspaper owner, authored by Deborah Davis, and initially released in 1979.

The book was first published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (HBJ), but they withdrew the book from circulation after a few weeks and returned the rights to Davis after citing that "certain facts and circumstances have arisen since publication."[1] Davis sued HBJ for $6 million in 1982 for breach of contract, alleging the recall came after a letter from the Washington Post's executive editor, Benjamin C. Bradlee to the publisher; Bradlee called the publication of the book "completely irresponsible" and then listed 39 errors where his name appeared. The suit was settled out of court for $100,000.[2][3]


This biography of Katharine Graham, including details of the death of her husband Philip Graham in 1963, advances some theories that have been met with considerable controversy. For example, Davis claimed that the source behind the Watergate scandal, popularly known as Deep Throat, was a CIA officer named Richard Ober (in fact, it was later revealed that Deep Throat had been FBI Associate Director Mark Felt). She also claims that the Washington Post's executive editor, Benjamin C. Bradlee, was part of a CIA propaganda plan to support the convictions of spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.[4]

Operation Mockingbird[edit]

Operation Mockingbird, an illegal domestic CIA operation whose purpose was the manipulation of the mass media in the United States for the purpose of political propaganda, was first exposed in Davis' book. The manipulation was accomplished by the recruitment of the top owners, publishers, and/or editors of key organizations; sometimes just a single key person.[citation needed] Some of the organizations targeted were the New York Times, the Washington Post, the CBS television network and Time magazine. These were the most respected U.S. news organizations which other news media followed on important stories. These stories could either be killed or promoted for propaganda purposes. Philip Graham is alleged to have been a former CIA employee, and, as the owner of the Washington Post, one of the first to participate in the CIA operation.


The book received unfavourable reviews from the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The New York Times and others.[5][6][7][8][9]

Davis' 1983 settlement with HBJ was heralded as a victory for writers though by Eve Pell of The Nation, but Pell saw both at fault for failing to fact check.[8]

Release details[edit]

It was republished in 1987 by National Press Inc.,[10] and again in 1991, this time by Sheridan Square Press.


  1. ^ "A Biography Gets the 'Out of Print' Treatment". The New York Times. 1980-01-15. 
  2. ^ "Author Sues Publisher On Disavowal". The New York Times. 1982-07-22. 
  3. ^ "People". The New York Times. 1983-11-04. 
  4. ^ Alex S. Jones (1987-09-20). "Katharine the Great". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ Jess Cook (1979-12-30). "Graham". Los Angeles Times. 
  6. ^ Robert Sherrill (1979-12-23). "Biography On the Bias". The Washington Post. 
  7. ^ John Leonard (1979-11-12). "Books of The Times". The New York Times. 
  8. ^ a b Eve Pell (1983-11-12). "Killing 'Katharine the Great'". The Nation. 
  9. ^ "Letters". The Nation. 1983-11-26. 
  10. ^ "Katharine Graham Book Is Being Republished". The New York Times. 1987-04-22.