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Washington Post publisher Will Lewis reportedly tried to kill story about his involvement in UK hacking scandal

Jun 6, 2024, 7:14 PM

William Lewis, the new publisher and chief executive of The Washington Post, reportedly tried to ki...

William Lewis, the new publisher and chief executive of The Washington Post, reportedly tried to kill a story about his alleged involvement in a UK phone hacking scandal coverup, offering an NPR reporter an interview in exchange for squashing the forthcoming article. (Carlotta Cardana/Bloomberg/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

(Carlotta Cardana/Bloomberg/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

(CNN) — William Lewis, the new publisher and chief executive of The Washington Post, reportedly tried to kill a story about his alleged involvement in a UK phone hacking scandal coverup, offering an NPR reporter an interview in exchange for squashing the forthcoming article.

The decade-old UK scandal that engulfed right-wing media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s “News of the World” tabloid, was revived in recent years in a new lawsuit filed by Prince Harry and other notable figures including Guy Ritchie and Hugh Grant. At the time, Lewis was a senior executive at Murdoch’s News Corporation. He has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

On Thursday, veteran NPR media reporter David Folkenflik reported that in December, Lewis, who had just been named publisher and chief executive of the Post, offered him an exclusive interview in exchange for his willingness not to publish a story on Lewis’ potential involvement in the scandal.

“In several conversations, 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 reported. “At that time, the same spokesperson, who works directly for Lewis from the U.K. and has advised him since his days at the Wall Street Journal — confirmed to me that an explicit offer was on the table: drop the story, get the interview.”

The Washington Post did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment.

Despite Lewis’ attempt to squash the story, NPR published the article in late December under the headline “New ‘Washington Post’ CEO accused of Murdoch tabloid hacking cover-up,” featuring a 2011 photo of Lewis with Murdoch.

The revelation came a day after The New York Times reported that Lewis had clashed in recent weeks with former Post executive editor Sally Buzbee over a decision to publish an article in May about the hacking scandal that named Lewis. According to the Times, Lewis told Buzbee the story didn’t warrant coverage in the newspaper.

“When Ms. Buzbee said The Post would publish an article anyway, he said her decision represented a lapse in judgment and abruptly ended the conversation,” the Times reported.

A person with knowledge of Buzbee’s account confirmed the conversation to CNN, adding that the then-executive editor felt pressured by Lewis over the story.

Days later, when the judge in the UK case allowed allegations about Lewis to be included in the lawsuit, the Post published another story naming him.

On Sunday night, the Post abruptly announced Buzbee was departing the newspaper and was being immediately replaced by former Wall Street Journal editor Matt Murray in a seismic shakeup at the outlet.

“Sally is an incredible leader and a supremely talented media executive who will be sorely missed,” Lewis said in a statement. “I wish her all the best going forward.”

Notably, Buzbee did not offer a farewell note to staff.

Staffers at the Post who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity said that newsroom morale had plummeted in the wake Buzbee’s departure and published reports about Lewis.

The news comes two weeks after Lewis unveiled a new plan to turn around the beleaguered newspaper, telling staff the company had lost $77 million over the last year and seen a dramatic 50% plunge in audience traffic since 2020.

“To speak candidly,” Lewis told staffers, “we are in a hole, and we have been for some time.”

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Washington Post publisher Will Lewis reportedly tried to kill story about his involvement in UK hacking scandal