WASHINGTON — Most journalists, especially those of the Watergate era, have some particular memory of Katharine Graham. This is mine.
In 1971, when The New York Times was temporarily under court injunction against publishing the Pentagon Papers, The Washington Post acquired its own copy. Post lawyers cautioned against publishing its contents, warning of possible prosecution. A public offering of Post Company stock, about to happen, was also endangered. Post-publisher Graham heard the arguments and decided, "Let's go, let's publish."
By contrast, a copy of the papers was also offered, around the same time to CBS News in the person of Walter Cronkite. CBS, where I was then working, declined, on the advice of its lawyers. My boss, news division president Richard Salant, later told me that the regulated television medium was less inclined than a newspaper to risk government reprisals.
The timorousness of television showed itself again with Watergate. In 1972, the Nixon White House threatened Mrs. Graham with dire consequences, including the possible loss of two Florida television licenses, if she didn't back off on Watergate. Mrs. Graham said that whatever the risk to her or her company, there was no going back.
In contrast was the reaction of CBS chairman William Paley when Nixon aide Charles Colson called him to demand the scrapping of the second of a comprehensive two-part summing up of Watergate on the "CBS Evening News" a month before the election. Told that it couldn't be killed because it had been widely promoted in advance, Mr. Paley had the report cut in half and shorn of its most controversial aspects.
Paley also came under White House pressure to abolish "instant analysis," by CBS correspondents, of Nixon appearances.
He later reinstated the ad-lib analysis under press and public criticism - once Nixon seemed no longer to be a threat.
It is certainly true that a regulated television station is more vulnerable to government pressure than a newspaper. But the threat to Mrs. Graham was, in the first place, to her TV licenses.
And something tells me that Katharine Graham would have painted a profile in corporate courage in whatever medium she functioned.
Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst for National Public Radio.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor