Magazine article The Spectator

A Woman of Some Importance after All

Magazine article The Spectator

A Woman of Some Importance after All

Article excerpt

PERSONAL HISTORY by Katharine Graham Weidenfeld, 25, pp. 642 Although the United States has no class system like ours, ultimately springing from legal distinctions, and claims not to be snobbish, it is in certain ways a more deferential society these days. Such deference manifests itself most strikingly in its financial capital, New York, and its centre of government, Washington. As a constant visitor, I find two aspects particularly disgusting. One is the grovelling to head waiters in fashionable restaurants, and the extraordinarily servile manner in which Americans will tamely line up behind a velvet rope. The second, more important, is the shameful respect paid to those who are rich or powerful or both, even if they are also stupid, tiresome and wrongheaded.

As a free-born Englishman I find it my egalitarian duty to defy these American conventions whenever possible. I ignore the velvet-rope defence and simply seat myself at a table, using a loud voice and English accent and vocabulary if challenged (nearly always works). And I do my best to bring the rich and powerful down a peg or two when occasion offers. Kay Graham, nee Meyer, heiress to the Washington Post empire and for many years publisher both of the Post and Newsweek, was a woman I particularly liked to put down.

Most Americans treated her like royalty and attributed to her intelligence, charm, niceness and wit, which in my judgment she manifestly did not possess. However, my friend Lady Pamela Berry, who was Kay Graham's closest transatlantic chum, and adored her, objected strongly to my lesemajeste, and threatened terrible sanctions if it persisted. So for Pam's sake I let Mrs Graham be, and after Pam died I did not have the heart to resume hostilities. In recent years Mrs Graham has become a back number anyway, so there was no point.

Now, having read Mrs Graham's autobiography, I have to confess I was wrong about her. She is both more substantial and, on the whole, sympathetic than I realised. She has written what is, by the standards of media tycoons, a readable and even truthful book. It is not without faults. It is far too long. It reveals blind spots. Mrs Graham still does not realise that the Watergate affair, in which she and her hirelings played so prominent a part, was no better than a media putsch, which did American institutions a lot of damage and led to the enslavement of Indo-China. …

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