Philip Graham

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Person.png Philip Graham   SpartacusRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(Newspaper publisher)
Phil Graham, 3 October 1961.jpg
BornPhilip Leslie Graham
July 18, 1915
Terry, South Dakota, USA
DiedAugust 3, 1963 (Age 48)
Marshall, Virginia, USA
Cause of death
Alma materUniversity of Florida, Harvard Law School
Children • 1 daughter
• 3 sons
SpouseKatharine Graham
Member ofCouncil on Foreign Relations/Historical Members, The Georgetown Set

Employment.png Publisher

In office
1946 - August 3, 1963
EmployerWashington Post

Philip Graham was publisher and later co-owner of The Washington Post. Under Philip Graham's management, the newspaper, thanks to its collaboration with the CIA, experienced an upswing and its empire expanded, including the purchase of the then-moribund Newsweek magazine[1] and other media properties.

He died in 1963 under suspicious circumstances, officially a suicide.


Graham was graduated from Miami High School, and then graduated from the University of Florida in 1936, with a bachelor of arts degree in economics. As an undergraduate, he was a debater and a polo player. In 1942 he entered the Army Air Corps as a private and in 1945 he emerged as a major attached to the intelligence staff of the Far East Air Force. He went on to the Harvard University Law School, where he was editor of the Law Review. In 1939-40 he was law clerk to Justice Stanley M. Reed of the Supreme Court, and the following year he was clerk to Justice Felix Frankfurter.[2]

On June 5, 1940, he married Katharine Meyer, a daughter of Eugene Meyer, a multi-millionaire and the owner of The Washington Post, then a struggling newspaper.[3]

Eugene Meyer let the management of the newspaper to Graham when he was appointed President of the World Bank in 1946.

Following the establishment of the CIA in 1947, Graham also forged close ties to the CIA, in what is known known as Operation Mockingbird. According to Katharine Graham's biographer, Deborah Davis, the CIA link was integral to the Post's rise to power: "Basically the Post grew up by trading information with the intelligence agencies." In short, Graham made the Post into an effective and influential propaganda conduit for the CIA.[4]

In 1960, he helped persuade his friend John F. Kennedy to take Lyndon Johnson on his ticket as the vice presidential candidate, personally talking with both men multiple times during the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, California. During the 1960 campaign, he wrote the drafts for several speeches that Johnson gave. After Kennedy and Johnson were elected in November, he successfully lobbied for the appointment of Douglas Dillon as Secretary of the Treasury, and had multiple discussions with Kennedy about other appointments.


Deborah Davis has pointed out that Philip Graham, who suffered from bipolar disorder[5], had also started rattling the CIA by the time of his death:

He had begun to talk, after his second breakdown, about the CIA's manipulation of journalists. He said it disturbed him. He said it to the CIA... He turned against the newsmen and politicians whose code was mutual trust and, strangely, silence. The word was that Phil Graham could not be trusted. Graham was actually under surveillance by somebody. Davis has noted that one of Graham's assistants "recorded his mutterings on scraps of paper."[4]

There are those, however, who have suggested that Graham's legendary "mental breakdown" that developed over the next several years was more a consequence of the psychiatric treatments to which he was subjected more so than any illness itself. One writer has speculated that Graham may have been the victim of the CIA's now-infamous experiments in the use of mind-altering drugs.[4]

Deborah Davis writes:

Phil died in 1963 and it's now 1992. There's still continuing speculation, 29 years later that he was murdered. In my book, I wrote it as a suicide because that's the way it's been represented and I didn't have any independent knowledge of anything else. If I were doing it today, or if I ever do another edition, I will probably expand on that and spend some time investigating it and finding out whether there is any evidence that it was murder. There were a couple of reasons why it could have been murder. One is the one you mentioned. The people that were protecting Kennedy might have done it because of he was a manic depressive. He was in and out of institutions and he was very mentally unstable. A lot of that probably had to do with the fact that he married into a wealthy family. He married the boss' daughter and they gave him the newspaper, but they were watching every move he made. So he did not react well to the fact that Katharine Graham's father had owned the Washington Post. He may have been killed for that reason, if he was killed.
He may have been killed because he had a mistress named Robin Webb. By that time he had moved out of Katharine's house and he was living with Robin Webb in another house and he was actually behaving as if they were married. He had dinner parties over there with her and invited various members of the Washington elite over there for dinner parties and making it very clear that this was the woman he preferred to Katharine. And at the same time, he was re-writing his will. He re-wrote his will three times. Edward Bennet Williams was his attorney. Edward Bennet Williams, who is very well-known as a Washington power broker. He recently died, but he was very much involved in this. Each time, he willingly, at Phil's request, wrote a will that gave Katharine less and less of a share of the Washington Post and gave more and more of it to Robin Webb. By the third rewrite she had nothing and Robin Webb had everything. And this was at a time when Katharine had pretty much given up on the marriage and realized that in order to save the newspaper, which she thought of as her family newspaper--her father built that newspaper and she didn't want to let it go to some mistress of her husband's--and she had come to the conclusion that she either had to divorce him and win the paper in a divorce settlement, or she had to have him declared mentally incompetent. Each of these alternatives was very unattractive to her. And so there's some speculation that either she arranged for him to be killed or somebody said to her, "don't worry, we'll take care of it" and there's some speculation that it might have even been Edward Bennet Williams.[6]

His son William Graham died on Dec. 20, 2017 at his home in Los Angeles, according to a Washington Post obituary which quoted his brother Donald Graham as saying the cause was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.[7]

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