Donald Edward Graham was born on April 22, 1945. His parents were Katharine Graham (née Meyer), later a publisher of The Washington Post, and her husband, Philip Graham. His maternal grandmother, Agnes Meyer, was a German Lutheran. His maternal grandfather, Eugene Meyer, was German Jewish and descended from a rabbinical family in Strasbourg. He bought the bankrupt Post shortly after stepping down as Chairman of the Federal Reserve in mid-1933. His mother was baptized as a Lutheran but attended an Episcopal church. His father was also a Lutheran.
Graham graduated from St. Albans School and then attended Harvard College. In 1965, he was elected president of The Harvard Crimson, the college's breakfast daily. After graduation in 1966, he volunteered for military service and served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968. There "he worked as an information specialist with the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968." From January 1969 to June 1970, Graham joined the Washington Metropolitan Police Department as a patrolman and was sent to the Ninth Precinct in Northeast Washington. Graham excelled as a patrolman, despite the harsh conditions of the Ninth Precinct.
Eugene Meyer, Graham's maternal grandfather, bought The Washington Post at a bankruptcy sale in 1933. Graham's father was publisher of The Washington Post from 1946 until 1961 and president of the Washington Post Company from 1947 until his death in 1963. Graham's mother, Katharine, was the head of The Washington Post newspaper for more than two decades, overseeing its most famous period, the Watergate coverage that helped bring down President Richard Nixon. She has been widely described as one of the most powerful American women of the 20th century.
In 1971, Graham joined The Washington Post as a reporter, and went on to hold various news and business positions at the Post and Newsweek (until 2010, owned by The Washington Post Company).
He was elected to the board of the company in September 1974 and was made executive vice president and general manager of the Post in 1976. Graham became publisher of The Washington Post in 1979, succeeding his mother, who retained her corporate positions of chairman of the board and CEO of The Washington Post Company. The Company owns the newspaper, as well as the educational services provider Kaplan, Inc., Post-Newsweek Stations, Cable One, Slate magazine, and other smaller companies. Donald Graham became CEO in 1991 and chairman of the company in May 1993, while Katharine Graham assumed the position of chairman of the executive committee of the Washington Post Company.
In 1994, Graham was responsible for “a heavy blow to the newspaper’s credibility” (WaPo ombudsman on October 9, 1994), when he successfully lobbied Senator John Danforth for a special provision, favoring Washington Post Co.'s cell phone holdings, in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) treaty. A Washington Post editorial had described the treaty as including "no surprises", igniting heavy criticism from rival companies. The Washington Post had to apologize and Graham later said about the conspiracy: “In hindsight, there should have been an editorial that mentioned this provision in the GATT treaty. We clearly should have done that.” He also offered an insight into the difficult balance between the interests of the newspaper and that of the holding company: “We run a business and make no apologies for the fact that we try to run it well.”
In September 2000, Graham was elected chairman of the newspaper and passed the position of publisher to Boisfeuillet Jones, Jr.
Graham also served as a member of the Pulitzer Prize Board between 2001 and 2010. He is on the board of the District of Columbia College Access Program and a trustee of the Federal City Council in Washington, D.C. Graham was also formerly a member of the board of directors of the Summit Fund of Washington.
He is also an invitee of the Bilderberg Group and attended conference meetings in Greece 2009, and Spain 2010.
In 1967, Graham married Mary Wissler. Wissler earned a law degree from Georgetown University and a bachelor's from Harvard-Radcliffe, where she met Graham. She is a research fellow at the Kennedy School's Taubman Center at Harvard focusing on such issues as health and safety regulations. In 2007, they announced that they were separating. They have four children.
On June 30, 2012, he married Amanda Bennett, a senior editor at Bloomberg News, a former editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, and a colleague from the Pulitzer Prize Board.
His daughter Laura is married to Tim O'Shaughnessy, former CEO of LivingSocial, and current president of Graham Holdings Company.