WaPo CEO Will Lewis ‘used fraudulently obtained records’ in reporting in the UK

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It’s sort of exciting to watch the American media reckon with the influx of British journalists, British editors and British corporate culture within American newsrooms. This culture-clash is happening in multiple newsrooms, but the most high-profile case is the Washington Post. Jeff Bezos owns WaPo, and several months ago, he appointed Will Lewis as the Post’s new CEO. Lewis is British and he cut his teeth in Rupert Murdoch’s British media arm during the heyday of pre-Leveson hacking and blagging. Lewis was recently cited in Prince Harry’s ongoing lawsuits against News UK, a fact which Lewis has been desperately trying to minimize, bury and kill. Lewis is clearly still operating like he’s part of a Murdoch operation in Britain, and that’s caused significant clashes within WaPo’s editorial board and beyond. Lewis is also bringing in more British editors and journalists, to the point where WaPo is probably going to resemble The Sun or the (now defunct) News of the World any day now. What’s also amazing is that the New York Times is taking the opportunity to do some very critical reporting of what’s going on at WaPo. Speaking of:

The publisher and the incoming editor of The Washington Post, when they worked as journalists in London two decades ago, used fraudulently obtained phone and company records in newspaper articles, according to a former colleague, a published account of a private investigator and an analysis of newspaper archives.

Will Lewis, The Post’s publisher, assigned one of the articles in 2004 as business editor of The Sunday Times. Another was written by Robert Winnett, whom Mr. Lewis recently announced as The Post’s next executive editor.

The use of deception, hacking and fraud is at the heart of a long-running British newspaper scandal, one that toppled a major tabloid in 2010 and led to years of lawsuits by celebrities who said that reporters improperly obtained their personal documents and voice mail messages.

Mr. Lewis has maintained that his only involvement in the controversy was helping to root out problematic behavior after the fact, while working for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. But a former Sunday Times reporter said on Friday that Mr. Lewis had personally assigned him to write an article in 2004 using phone records that the reporter understood to have been obtained through hacking.

After that story broke, a British businessman who was the subject of the article said publicly that his records had been stolen. The reporter, Peter Koenig, described Mr. Lewis as a talented editor — one of the best he had worked with. But as time went on, he said Mr. Lewis changed.

“His ambition outran his ethics,” Mr. Koenig said.

A second article in 2002 carried Mr. Winnett’s byline, and a private investigator who worked for The Sunday Times later publicly acknowledged using deception to land the materials.

[From The NY Times]

The NY Times is also reviewing all the times where Lewis paid thousands of dollars for information, which is a widespread tactic in the British press, they all pay for leads or information. Only the tabloids do that here in America, like the National Enquirer, In Touch Weekly or maybe Us Weekly. Never a newspaper. I think Lewis probably could have gotten away with paying-for-information as a mere “cultural difference” in newsrooms across the pond. But the fact that he is still lying about everything else is going to ruin his American career long-term. Hiring private investigators to create a third-party buffer to criminal activity, using information from hacking and other crimes, all of that happened for years across the board in UK newsrooms and Lewis was absolutely a part of it. That’s why Prince Harry is suing, and that’s why Lewis is so desperate to bury all of those stories.

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27 Responses to “WaPo CEO Will Lewis ‘used fraudulently obtained records’ in reporting in the UK”

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  1. Pinkosaurus says:

    Thank you for covering this! I am saddened by what Bezos and his recent hires are doing to the Washington Post. I canceled my subscription recently but still have several pre-paid months of access.

    I thought the WP reporters are doing a good job covering their new bosses’ malfeasance to the extent they are being allowed. Here’s a gift link to the WP’s recent coverage. It would be nice to give the reporters some clicks to show this type of detailed ethical reporting still gets traffic: https://wapo.st/3KLx4sw

  2. sevenblue says:

    There is no way in hell Jeff Bezos didn’t know about this. One of the richest man on earth would do a background check on CEO he wants to hire for a newspaper. It seems to me, being sleazy was the reason he got the job. Now, he is bringing his sleazy friends to the company. There will be no ethical journalism left there in a few months.

    • Brassy Rebel says:

      Yes! Bezos didn’t climb to the top of that pile of money he sits on by being ignorant of who he is hiring. His goal is to do a makeover of the WP.

    • WithTheAmerican says:

      I think their layout off/getting rid of the liberal columnists was a good indication of where they’re going.

      I guess it’s not enough that the NYT is endorsing fascism, Bezos is all in on oligarchical power too.

  3. vs says:

    What has been going on the post and the commentary online tells me the US media is well aware of how trash UK media is. I wonder if the UK has any type of self awareness given most people consider their media ecosystem to be corrupt and just plain sleaze/trash

  4. Pinkosaurus says:

    Also, this is a perfect example for why the RICO laws in the US are critical when the political will is there to prosecute. It will make it harder for Lewis and his sleezy criminal cronies that he’s hiring to hide behind the front line hires doing the dirty work.

    • LynnInTx says:

      I don’t think it’s (mostly) lack of political will to prosecute that leads to a lack of RICO cases. A close family member worked for a branch of the DOJ (that’s as much as I can say). Once, when we were discussing RICO cases (an assignment by my HS journalism teacher, because there were two in the SCOTUS that year), they said RICO is notoriously hard to win. And since the federal DOJ does not like to prosecute cases they don’t win, for lots of various reasons – including political, then in the vast majority of cases, they don’t levy RICO charges unless they have a metric ton of evidence that backs it up. And even then, it can be a tough sell to the higher ups.

      The charges are critical, and have been used in some very effective cases. I’m glad we have them. Since that conversation, I always pay attention when RICO is involved.

      With all that said, unless there are other things buried under the surface that are not in the news, none of this meets the standard for RICO – yet. Racketeering has a very narrow and specific legal definition, and this doesn’t hit that standard. Yet.

  5. ML says:

    “ It’s sort of exciting to watch the American media reckon with the influx of British journalists, British editors and British corporate culture within American newsrooms. “

    GOOD!! News is under attack worldwide. Local news reporting has been disappearing, journalists are being threatened, and the far right is taking over regular media. I’m applauding American newsrooms calling out shady news practices!

  6. Jais says:

    It’s exciting but I’ll be even more excited if this man and winnet both get fired. If they don’t, it’s hard to stomach. Love how most of the journalists at WaPO seems equally horrified and up in arms about the hires and practices. So many disappointments in papers from WAPO to the NYT but it’s a good reminder that there are some decent journalists in there. Unfortunately the papers are run by the worst of them.

    • Agnes says:

      Every single news source in America is struggling financially, and journalists are being laid off in droves. Of course Bezos was aware of Lewis’s past. But he probably thought Brits have a better track record for turning a profit? Billionaires like to make money, not lose it.

  7. Hypocrisy says:

    I hope news agencies stay on this story until he’s fired or resigns.. it’s bad enough here already we don’t need to import the criminal thug tactics of the British press.

  8. Interested Gawker says:

    That paper needs to dump this guy. When Besos called out that guy Pecker for extortion some years back I thought he had swerved those sort of people but I guess ‘they’ still had something on him.

    • MsIam says:

      That is what gets me with this. When that whole Enquirer story broke supposedly Bezos was so mad he was going to “buy the Enquirer and put it out of business”. Instead it looks like he’s trying to create his own upscale version. He’s a bum and I’m glad Mackenzie dumped him and took half his money. It looks like as long as WaPo stays out of his business he doesn’t care who runs the paper or what direction it takes.

  9. Mario says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for covering this. Expose and amplify as much as possible about this new regime before they can do too much damage and we MIGHT just be able to save one of our nation’s two remaining “papers of record,” before it’s too late.

    American papers don’t run like the British ones and legit news outlets don’t run like the Murdoch global titles, and yet, soon, all 3 of the POSTS new leaders will be from Murdoch land with 2 coming from British papers with controversies and scandals to match. No, no, NO.

  10. swaz says:

    Bezos should just accept his losses and let this thug Lewis go back to Britain 🙄🙄🙄

  11. Jessica says:

    NPR is covering this too as the journalist was asked to stop covering Lewis in exchange an interview, she didn’t though.

  12. Proud Mary says:

    Color me surprised. What I’ve noticed with American media, is that they’ve allowed some pretty unsavory characters on their airwaves that won’t see the light of day on TV (aside from Fox not News), aside from the fact that they are royal “reporters.” People like Tominey, Jabba, and Nichols, who just lie with abandon, and some pretty blatantly racist people, are given platforms on US networks, because, I guess it’s okay, as long as Meghan’s the victim. There also seems a kind of naivete in that American media aren’t aware of the level to which Britain is a blatantly racist country. I recall a couple of occasions when US networks had to end interviews with so-called royal experts who were waxing into some openly racist stuff: (1) that woman on MSNBC who described Meghan as being “two clicks up from trash”, and (2) Penny Junor, Charles’ biography who kept referring to African Americans as “colored people.” Yep, that happened.

  13. tamsin says:

    What is the reason for the influx of British tabloid culture into American newsrooms in the first place? I wondered why Lewis was hired by Bezos, and why Bezos bought a newspaper in the first place. The press is a sitting duck for billionaires to exploit for their own purposes. The voices against media concentration seem to have thinned to nothing. We now have to depend on SM to be the watchdogs? Bezos joining the ranks of Rothemere and Murdock is scary.

  14. Saucy&Sassy says:

    I hope when Biden is reelected and the Dems have the House and the Senate that the Fairness Doctrine will be back and it will include social media. That’s needs to happen sooner rather than later. Let’s see how Murdoch and Co. will like that.

  15. Jayna says:

    Bezos is scum.

  16. JudyB says:

    Just cancelled my subscription as well.