Fred Graham ’59, legal affairs reporter and Court TV anchor, dies at 88

Dec 31, 2019

UNITED STATES – SEPTEMBER 06: Fred Graham of Court TV, does a live broadcast from Russell Building during the viewing services of the late Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, William Rehnquist. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images)

Fred P. Graham ’59, whose career as a legal affairs reporter, television anchor and author spanned more than four decades, died Dec. 28 at his home in Washington, D.C. He was 88.

Read the Fred Graham’s New York Times obituary

Read Fred Graham’s Washington Post obituary

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Graham attended high school in Nashville and then earned his undergraduate degree from Yale University. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Korea and Japan before earning his law degree at Vanderbilt. During law school, he worked as a reporter for the Tennessean. He continued his legal studies at the University of Oxford in England and then practiced law in Nashville before moving to Washington to serve as chief counsel of a Judiciary subcommittee under Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-Tenn.) and as an aide to Labor Secretary W. Willard Wirtz.

In 1965, Graham became the first lawyer assigned to cover the Supreme Court for the New York Times while the Court was led by Chief Justice Earl Warren. He covered the 1971 Pentagon Papers case, in which the Court blocked a Nixon administration attempt to prevent the New York Times and the Washington Post from publishing a secret history of the Vietnam War. During the court battle, Graham hid a copy of the documents in a freezer in his garage.

Graham joined the CBS television network in 1972 to report on the Watergate scandal and then spent the next 15 years as the network’s legal correspondent, where he aimed to demystify the practices and deliberations of Supreme Court justices whom he described, at a time when no women sat on the high court, as “isolated men with limited political experience, lifetime tenure and long black robes.”

Graham was laid off by CBS in 1987, as the network entered what he later described as its “infotainment phase.” For two years, he was a local news anchor at WKRN-TV, the ABC affiliate in Nashville.

Throughout his career, Graham advocated for increasing judicial transparency by allowing television cameras in courtrooms. He joined Court TV in 1991, soon after televsion cameras were allowed in courtrooms to provide live coverage of criminal trials. His coverage of the trial of O.J. Simpson, a former professional football player accused of killing his ex-wife and her friend, vaulted the network to national prominence.

Graham was the author of several books, including The Self-Inflicted Wound (1970), about the Warren Court; Press Freedoms Under Pressure (1972), about First Amendment law; The Alias Program (1977), about the witness protection program; and Happy Talk: Confessions of a TV Newsman (1990). He retired from Court TV, where he had become managing editor, in 2008.

Graham is survived by his wife, Skila Harris, and three children from his first marriage.

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