LETTER from THE EDITOR

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As we carry on trying to adapt to reporting a new government, I find warning and advice in the just-published autobiography of Katherine Graham, the proprietor of the Washington Post, and one of the giants of the post-war American newspaper industry. Her story is extraordinary - brilliant mogul father and dominating mother, then marriage to the driven and charismatic, but often cruel Phil Graham, who became a manic depressive and shot himself, leaving her with the paper; then the years of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers.

More to my point, though, was her account of how she and - more particularly - her husband became too close to the charismatic JFK and Lyndon Johnson, damaging the reputation for independence of the Post. Graham aspired to be a shaper and creator of White House policy: later, Katherine was on the receiving end of buttering-up and abuse from several presidents.

She tells a great story about being summoned by Johnson for a bollocking at the White House: ``As he was ranting at me, he started to undress, flinging his clothes off ... his coat, his tie, his shirt. Finally, he was down to his pants. I was frozen with dismay and baffled about what to do. I remember thinking to myself, `This can't be me being bawled out by the President of the United States while he's undressing.' Suddenly he bellowed, `Turn around!' I did so obediently and gratefully and he went right on with his angry monologue until I turned back at his command to find him in his pyjamas.''

I suppose she'd have been a lot more worried had it been Clinton. But her book is full of detailed accounts of how she and the Post's journalists coped with the pull of liberal administrations and politicians they basically admired.

At a party given for her by George Weidenfeld at the Athenaeum this week, Katherine Graham agreed there were possible parallels with the lure of the Blair administration. The basic rule, I think, is ``mutual respect: different interests''. In particular, hacks mustn't succumb to the deadly disease of thinking we are players in their game - that we have specially brilliant insights which can be privately explained to the admiring politicians. The clever ones nod, listen and smile politely, congratulating themselves that hacks can be bought so cheaply with a half-ounce of flattery.

In The Spectator magazine, I find a cross-patch article by Paul Johnson about Scots (or as he insists on calling us, Scotchmen) in which he accuses me of whacking people over the head with a haggis (verbally); boasting about Scottish superiority and ``ethnic name-dropping''. Apart from a humorous radio exchange with Matthew Parris some years ago, I haven't the faintest idea what the man is on about. How could I be anti-English? I live in England and am married to an Englishwoman and have English-ish children. More than that, I have met English people and even, at times, engaged in perfectly civilised conversational intercourse with them.

Not, mind you, with Mr Johnson. His article is spattered with anti-Scottish sneering. Sneering is how he comforts himself. For that, I would happily whack him with a haggis, or bung up his ear-trumpet with haggis. On the other hand, he brings one piece of cheering news, telling us: ``Tony Blair has not the slightest intention of taking orders from Scots, Picts, Celts or anyone else from the fringe.'' Assuming that includes the lunatic fringe, Mr J, consider it a deal.

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