Thursday, December 8, 2016

December 6, 1877 – The first edition of The Washington Post is published.

The newspaper was founded in 1877 by Stilson Hutchins, a former Missouri state legislator who wanted to promote Democratic politics. It added a Sunday edition in 1880, becoming the first newspaper in the city to publish seven days a week.

In 1889, Hutchins sold the newspaper to Frank Hatton, a former Postmaster General, and Beriah Wilkins, a former Democratic congressman from Ohio. To promote the newspaper, the new owners sponsored an essay contest. For the awards ceremony, they commissioned John Philip Sousa to compose a march. Sousa composed The Washington Post, which remains one of Sousa's best-known works.

Wilkins acquired Hatton's share of the newspaper in 1894 after Hatton's death. After Wilkins' death in 1903, his sons ran the Post for two years before selling it in 1905 to John Roll McLean, owner of the Cincinnati Inquirer.

When McLean died in 1916, he bequeathed the newspaper to a trust. His son, the playboy Edward "Ned" McLean,broke the will and took control of the newspaper. But, just as his father had predicted, Ned ran the newspaper into the ground.

The newspaper went bankrupt in 1933 and was purchased at auction by Eugene Meyer, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Meyer radically improved the newspaper's reporting, sobering it up and moving away from yellow journalism. In 1946, Meyer was succeeded as publisher by his son-in-law, Philip Graham.

In 1954, Graham purchased the city's leading daily, the Washington Times-Herald. The Times-Herald was founded as the Washington Times in 1894 by Stilson Hutchins (yes, that guy). The Washington Herald was founded by former Washington Post managing editor Scott C. Bone in 1906. William Randolph Hearst bought the Times in 1917, and the Herald in 1922, and merged them. The Times-Herald was a money-loser, and in 1930 he permitted his millionaire socialite friend, Cissy Patterson (cousin of Chicago Tribune publisher Robert McCormick and younger sister of Chicago Daily news publisher Joseph Medill Patterson) to edit the papers. She turned them to hard-core local reporting, lots of photos, and constant contests. She leased them from Hearst in 1937 and bought them outright from him in 1939 -- beating out Meyer and Graham. Patterson was known for her front-page editorials, right-wing conservatism, isolationism, and lurid writing style. She died suddenly in 1948.

Like McLean, Patterson tried to leave her newspaper to a trust, but her daughter broke the will and sold it to the Post in 1954.

Washington at one time had as many as 12 morning and afternoon newspapers. But nearly all of them lost money. By 1955, there were just three: The Post (morning), the Daily News (morning), and the Star (evening). The Daily News and Star merged in 1972, and remained an afternoon newspaper. The Star folded in 1982.

Unification Church leader Sun Myung Moon established a new, ultra-conservative Washington Times in 1982. Its circulation is one-seventh the size of the Post's, and has been a money-loser its entire life. Two former Hearst editors formed the ultra-conservative Washington Examiner in 2005, but it folded in 2013.

Phil Graham committed suicide in 1963, and control of the Post passed to his wife, Katharine Graham. A complete novice, Graham hired superb editors and reporters and pushed for investigative journalism to try to shed the newspaper's reputation as a Democratic shill.

The Washington Post made its national reputation in 1971 by publishing the Pentagon Papers (a top-secret history of the Vietnam War), and in 1972 by revealing the Watergate scandal (an attempt by Richard Nixon to undermine American democracy).

Donald E. Graham succeeded his mother as publisher in 1979. He was succeeded in 2000 by Boisfeuillet Jones, Jr., who began pushing the newspaper toward a more conservative tone. Jones was replaced by Katharine Graham Weymouth (Donald Graham's daughter) in 2008.

In 2014, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos purchased the newspaper for $250 million in cash. The newspaper has since taken to running ads on the front page, and occasionally using alt-right and conspiracy-theory web sites as sources.

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