Lally Weymouth on the Days when her Parents Owned Newsweek

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Weymouth in her Manhattan apartment, 1979. Vic DeLucia / The New York Times-Redux

The modern era of Newsweek began in 1961, when Philip and Katharine Graham paid $15 million to buy it. In recent years, their daughter, Elizabeth ­Weymouth, was the family’s most visible presence at the magazine. She traveled the world interviewing heads of state—a role she still plays for The Washington Post. She talked about those years with her former editor, Deidre Depke, now editor of The Daily Beast.

Do you remember when your father bought Newsweek?

I remember it well. Everyone told him that he couldn’t purchase the magazine. But he wasn’t a man to take no for an answer. So he paid a call on Mrs. Vincent Astor, one of the owners, and he charmed her into selling it. He wrote a personal check for $2 million on the spot. I still have the check.

Why did he want Newsweek?

Ben Bradlee, then the Washington bureau chief of Newsweek, came to him with the proposal. My father liked Bradlee and he had done a lot with The Washington Post by then.

Did he enjoy Newsweek?

He loved it. He loved news and politics. It was a new outlet for his genius.

After his death, your mother took over. It was much harder for her.

My mother had a hard time in the beginning, but ultimately she enjoyed it. And I thought she did a very good job. She was very helpful to Newsweek and Post correspondents. She could open doors and land the big interviews that they couldn’t always get on their own.

Some of the stories of Kay’s trips abroad are legendary; bureau chiefs meeting her at the airport with brass bands, that sort of thing.

She was pretty low-key actually.

Then you inherited the job of interviewing heads of state.

Maynard Parker, Newsweek’s brilliant editor at the time, got beaten on a big interview by Time. So he said, “I want you to come and do big interviews for me because I never want to be beaten again by Time.

When you and I worked together, I was so impressed by your energy—all those nights you stayed up faxing letters to remote outposts. You didn’t have to do any of it ...

It’s enormously interesting to travel to different countries and interview world leaders. And you’re right—I remember having to program the fax machine to send faxes at 3 a.m. to India. Now we’re so spoiled with technology.

You used to lug around those 15-pound binders full of briefing papers, then stay up all night studying them.

I don’t have the binders, but I still read all the documents.

Who was your most combative interview?

Probably Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. The interview took place just before the United States bombed the former Yugoslavia. He allowed me to ask whatever I wanted: “You’re the poster child for genocide, how do you feel about that?” That sort of thing. He didn’t say, “There’s the door, get out.” He argued his point of view for two hours.

Muammar Gaddafi must have been fascinating, too.

He was sitting in his tent with his guards, and there were little heaters all over the place because it was January and cold. It was after Lockerbie, and he wanted to get the sanctions lifted… and the interview was part of his effort. The West wanted him to apologize, and so as we talked, he began to hint at the possibility.

Did any of your interviews inspire you?

Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. I did the last interview with her before she was assassinated. She walked me out of her house and said, “The security services say there’s a threat of an attack against me in 10 days.” She was killed two weeks later.

Is there someone you haven’t talked to whom you are dying to get?

Of course. Always.

Who?

I’m not going to tell you.

Would your father regret the media’s move to digital?

It’s what had to happen. It was different when Americans got their news through weekly magazines. But those days are gone.

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