Will Lewis must go. The Washington Post publisher’s actions cast doubt on his newsroom’s credibility.

Will Lewis
(Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Washington Post publisher Will Lewis pressured former top editor Sally Buzbee not to run a story about his involvement in a decade-old British phone-hacking scandal, and forced her out after she defied him.

Doing what he did violates a core doctrine of American journalism: that editors and publishers are not supposed to interfere with their own newsrooms’ coverage of issues in which they have a personal conflict of interest.

It’s really about as basic as it gets.

And having crossed that line, Lewis should hand in his resignation. Or Post owner Jeff Bezos should fire him.

Lewis reportedly said Buzbee’s decision to run the story over his objections was a “lapse in judgement.” But the lapse was all his.

And it’s a lapse that casts into doubt the credibility of the entire news operation. What other coverage will Lewis interfere with next: News about Amazon, and its owner Jeff Bezos – who gave Lewis his job? News about his former boss, right-wing media titan  Rupert Murdoch?

Once the line has been crossed, all bets are off.

The lapse also reflects terribly on the two (white male fellow former Murdoch henchmen) friends Lewis hired to replace Buzbee.

Matt Murray, a former Wall Street Journal executive, is serving as interim editor of the newsroom through the November election, when he takes the helm of a new as-yet-undefined “second” newsroom. Robert Winnett, who currently edits a conservative British broadsheet, the Telegraph, will take over the main newsroom after the election.

Were they hired because they won’t tell their friend and boss no when and if he interferes again?

Benjamin Mullin and Katie Robertson first reported on Lewis’s confrontation with Buzbee in the New York Times Wednesday night.

Thursday afternoon, NPR media reporter David Folkenflik added new details and provided new evidence of how much Lewis wanted that story spiked.

There were two discussions over two articles, Folkenflik reported, both of which Buzbee published over Lewis’s objections. One, in March, didn’t even mention Lewis until the fourth paragraph. The second, in May, was prompted by a British judge clearing the way for plaintiffs — including Britain’s Prince Harry! — to air allegations that Lewis, among other Murdoch henchmen, concealed evidence related to the hacking.

Buzbee “emerged rattled from both discussions in March and in May,” Folkenflik reported

Then Folkenflik tossed this bombshell: “It is not the first time that Lewis has engaged in intense efforts to head off coverage about him in ways that many U.S. journalists would consider deeply inappropriate.”

In December, when Folkenflik was working on what became the first comprehensive piece on the new allegations against Lewis, “Lewis repeatedly — and heatedly —offered to give me an exclusive interview about the Post’s future, as long as I dropped the story about the allegations,” Folkenflik wrote.

That’s outrageous behavior for a media executive — although it’s not nearly as bad as interfering with your own news organization. Folkenflik was able to tell Lewis no with no repercussions. Not so for Buzbee.

In retrospect, an early sign of fishy business emerged after the May story ran in the Post, when Max Tani of Semafor reported that a top editor had instructed other editors not to promote the story in any newsletters.

Evidently, Lewis’s interference had some effect on the story’s play, even if he failed to prevent its existence.

Tellingly, in an interview with the Post shortly after Bezos picked him for the job, Lewis vaguely denied the allegations against him, insisting that “I did whatever I could to preserve journalistic integrity.”

And he made it clear he didn’t want the topic to come up again.

“I took a view very early on that I’m never going to talk about it,” he said. “And it’s either right or wrong that I’ve done that.”

All this is happening, of course, as the Post is already laboring under a massive conflict of interest created by Bezos’s ownership.

As I wrote in 2022 for the Columbia Journalism Review, pretty much every public-policy issue the Post covers affects Bezos’s sprawling personal and business interests in material ways. Bezos has also occasionally shown animus for President Biden.

And the Post, although it forbids reporters from accepting even small gifts from sources, has no official policy on the much larger conflicts of interest that involve its owner – or, now, its publisher.

The ostensible protection from those conflicts – that the owner and publisher would never get personally involved in coverage that affected them – is no longer operative.

Richard Tofel, former president of ProPublica, tweeted that “Continuing regular coverage of the still-unfolding phone hacking scandal will now become an essential test for the new editors at WaPo.”

But even passing that test wouldn’t be enough, in my view — nor, I suspect, would it be enough in the view of many Post journalists.

Current Post staffers are muted by the paper’s draconian rules against posting their opinions on social media, but plenty of former Posties chimed in, giving you a sense of how they probably feel.

Former Post columnist Helaine Olen tweeted that “Every revelation about the Washington Post’s publisher’s attempts to stop pieces about his alleged role in the phone hacking scandal gives the impression he’s exactly the sort of guy who would have tried to cover up the phone hacking scandal.”

Former Post reporter Kara Swisher tweeted: “This is, um, not good. Tho this kind of horse trading happens (largely with celebs), it is rare and shocking and adds heft to @SallyBuzbee’s accounts.”

Former Post reporter Christopher Ingraham concluded: “This is extremely gross.” (He also noted that “the exclusive interview went to perennial management-defender Dylan Byers at Puck.”)

And former Post reporter Jose Antonio Vargas tweeted: “I don’t see how Will Lewis can continue to lead WaPo without addressing ALL the questions being raised.”

I don’t think even that will be enough. This is too important a matter to explain away. As Margaret Sullivan, a former Post media columnist who now runs the Craig Newmark Center for Journalism Ethics and Security at Columbia University, wrote to me in an email: “News organizations with integrity need to be able to report on themselves honestly and without pulling punches. That’s never easy but it’s necessary.”

I’m with David Kaye, a University of California Irvine law professor, who posted on Bluesky that “to my mind, David Folkenflik’s reporting, on top of yesterday’s and the weekend’s, should end Lewis’s tenure at the Post.”

And I’m with former NPR reporter Howard Berkes, who tweeted: “No top exec in a legit news org deserves to be in journalism after this.”

And I’m with former ABC News reporter Chris Bury, who tweeted that “maybe @JeffBezos needs to get off his yacht and find a new publisher.”


  1. So when Will Lewis says “I can’t sugarcoat this any more” at an all hands meeting of WaPo reporters, he is moving the goalposts from why I muscled Sally Buzbee out for publishing stories about my legal liabilities, to, it’s your fault we lost $77m last year.
    Gaslighting. Seen at its large scale when Brit tabs, who were and still are thought to be partially responsible for Diana’s auto crash, changed the public mood against them by accusing the Queen of not caring because she flew no flag half-mast at Buckingham Palace. Shell game gaslighting, which many historians believe was the most serious menace to the monarchy in Elizabeth’s 70-year reign.
    The gaslighting op continued during the phone hacking scandal, during which Lewis was one of only two Murdoch cleanup operatives, not, as he claims, the junior executive. This scandal being the worst case of press corruption we know of.
    Gaslighting is who Will Lewis is and what he does. He is unfit to run a national newspaper during the most important election this country has ever had — much less changing infrastructure and direction in the middle of it. This has serious implications for our democracy.


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