The Washington Post, in grave financial trouble, was bought by a very wealthy man whose biographer called him “an energetic young tycoon.”1 Highly successful as a banker and Wall Street investor, the new publisher had never before worked at a newspaper, let alone owned one, but he had shown a fine head for business and was known to be far-sighted. He had plenty of new money and wanted to do something civic-minded.
The Washington Post was once one of the nation’s two great newspapers. It covered not just Washington, but the world, and it did so according to canons of objectivity handed down by the current publisher’s great grandfather, Eugene Meyer. Meyer was a member of a bygone elite. He made many millions on Wall Street and as an industrialist, but by the 1920s was devoting himself to public service—as official in successive administrations and as chairman of the Federal Reserve. In 1933, he bought the Washington Post at a bankruptcy sale.
Herbert Hoover’s defense of his administration at Des Moines is like the climax of a Greek tragedy. It represents, as in Aristotle’s definition, the struggle against inexorable fate of a good but not wholly guiltless man. Elected four years ago on the flood tide of success and fame, he now faces certain and probably overwhelming rejection because of the misfortunes which have overtaken both him and his people. Though he still thinks of these misfortunes as being undeserved, their origins are inextricably interwoven with his own past.