Thursday, February 18, 2010

Watergate, Pulitzers and Publishing: a quick lesson for the children

The big thing in second grade is the reports kids do on prominent Americans. The girls get women and the boys men. I was hoping for an Amelia Earheart, Eleanor Roosevelt, Abigail Adams, or Clara Barton, Harriet Tubman, Betsy Ross. These women were amazing and inspiring examples of courage, determination and gumption. That's right, I said gumption. I went through a whole phase in third and fourth grades where I read every biography on women in American history from our school's library. I loved them (the books and the women). I was looking forward to this project until Ainsleigh walked in with her assignment.

"Who's Katharine Graham?" I asked, wracking my brain for why it sounded familiar. Dancer? No, that was Martha Graham. Inventor? Nope. Maybe she invented crackers?
"I don't know!" Ainsleigh giggled.
"So...why did you pick her?"
"Because she has the same name as my aunt!"

Okaaaaaaaay. And then I remembered that a lot of times I picked my latest biography based on the cover art and how pretty the women were depicted. This is where I learned the lesson about book covers and judging and all. Turns out, Juliette Low is not as fascinating a read as her beautiful portrait would otherwise suggest (no disrespect, Girl Scouts of America).

So I set to work on my homework. Wait, didn't I already DO my homework about 25 years ago? But I had learned a good lesson last year when we sat down to research her report on Norway and quickly discovered that Googling Viking images doesn't always bring up pictures you want your child to see. (note: googling ANY images will bring up stuff you don't want your child, or you, to see) So I did some recon work and then sat down with Ainsleigh to go over it, only realizing at the same moment that while I thought I was doing it a couple days early, the initial research was due the next day. Good one, me.

Katharine Graham, it turns out, was the publisher for The Washington Post for quite a while and earned a bunch of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1997. She worked to increase women's equality in the workplace, especially at the Post, and was a very powerful woman in a time when women weren't really allowed to be powerful. And, most notably, she was a driving force with Woodward and Bernstein during the whole Watergate scandal. But all of that? Is kind of difficult to explain to a seven year old.


How DO you explain Watergate to your child when you don't entirely understand it? There were...tapes. A break-in. A cover up. Political parties. Deep throat. Shredding. Hearings. Dirty crook. Resignation. And then there's a picture of Nixon and Graham laughing together, years later (um, how awkward must that have been?).

"Back when Grandpa was young, there was a President. President Nixon. And some people did some...illegal things-"
"What's illegal mean?"
"Against the law-"
"Whoa. That's bad. Did they go to jail?"
"Uh, well. Some, I think. But first nobody knew they were doing illegal stuff. And then there were two guys - reporters - who found out about it, so they went to Katharine, remember we talked about how she was the publisher, and said they had this news that was important, but could get some people mad at them...well, the people who...liked doing illegal things?...anyway, Katharine thought it was important that the people doing illegal things be accountable, so they printed the news."
"So...they wrote the story and she signed it?"
"Um, no. Not for real. A publisher is pretend your school makes a newspaper and all the students write stories and all the teachers check to make sure they're right and correct your work and give you ideas, well the publisher is like the principal of your school - in charge of everyone." I had to hold myself back from likening different classrooms to the different beats, and then budget cuts to subscription declines and the ultimate failure of print media, but only because I would need a powerpoint presentation and pie charts. I'll get right on that.

"What's the...pultzer?"
"The Pulitzer Prize is the best award you can get for writing."
"Did you get one?"
cue chuckling.
"Um, no. It's like...the gold medal at the Olympics. But harder."
"Sounds like a big prize."
"Maybe you should work harder."

For now, for teaching her about publishing and Watergate and Pulitzers, I'm going to award myself the honorary bowl of chocolate ice cream with caramel sauce. Why couldn't she get the lady who started Haagen-Dazs?


OneTiredEma said...

I think it was a married couple who started Haagen Dazs in like the 1950s or something. Americans who gave their product a made up European sounding name for the snoot factor.

I could be wrong. I used to watch a lot of Food Network and could be getting my facts confused :)

laura said...

Hahahaha. "Whoa. That's bad."

I love Ainsleigh.

Lisa said...

I love how when kids hear about a big award, they always ask you if you've gotten it. "Oh, you iceskated? Could you do a triple axel????" When I skated, there were only 3 women in the WORLD that could do one. "So, could you do it???" Ummmmmm, no. I was not one of those 3 women.

PaloAltoCougar said...

As soon as I read "Katherine Graham" I thought of Watergate, of course, and this exchange from the movie "All the President's Men":

John Mitchell: [on phone] You tell your publisher, tell Katie Graham she's gonna get her tit caught in a big wringer if that's published.

Ben Bradlee: [later] He really said that about Mrs. Graham?

Carl Bernstein: [nods]

Ben Bradlee: Well, I'd cut the words "her tit" and print it.

Carl Bernstein: Why?

Ben Bradlee: This is a family newspaper.

The accuracy of the original quote and the ensuing exchange has been confirmed. I'll leave it to you whether Ainsleigh should include this in her report.

The Now Not So Young Grandpa

Sarah said...

I actually thought, at one point, "Maybe you should call Grandpa and he'll explain it to you..." Maybe when you come to visit, you and she can watch a little Redford/Hoffman. I'm sure she'll love it.

PaloAltoCougar said...

Seriously, I would love to do that. For me, the overriding lesson of Watergate was that while everyone makes mistakes, it's how you behave after the mistake that shows what kind of a person you are. Some choose to pretend the mistake didn't happen or try to cover it up, and often these attempts only make things much worse. Way better to admit to a mistake or wrongdoing. People tend to be very forgiving to the genuinely penitent, and very harsh toward those who refuse to come clean.

I'm ready to preach, but then, that's my default setting. I'll bring the DVD.

Sarah said...

Yes, I *know* you would love that. Go ahead and bring your bomb shelter plans, too. And prepare for a discussion on the space race. Maybe a frog to dissect? I'm pretty sure this is the equivalent of mom sewing and baking cookies and painting.

Anonymous said...

If you want to hold off on introducing her to the aforementioned movie, you two could dance along with Newsies!

And if there's still time, you could have her give a sidebar on the Pulitzer and the irony that it's eponym was a leader in yellow journalism.