The Scoop: Crisis at WaPo after publisher accused of trying to kill stories

Plus: The EU is awash in disinformation as voting begins; Ikea pays real money for Roblox workers.

The Washington Post is facing several major crises

The Washington Post’s wild week took a turn for the disastrous Thursday.

The vaunted publication was already facing upheaval after the abrupt exit of Executive Editor Sally Buzbee. Now, accusations are emerging both from the Post and from NPR that Will Lewis, the newly appointed CEO and publisher of the Washington, D.C., paper, tried to suppress stories about his involvement in covering up criminal activity in a previous role at British tabloids owned by mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Reports began to surface that one factor in Buzbee’s departure was Lewis’ lobbying to kill stories about the scandal and ensuing court case. One event reportedly happened in March, while the other was more recent, in May. While both stories eventually ran, a publisher being involved in discussions about editorial decisions at all is considered taboo in American media, which attempts to maintain strong ethical boundaries between the business and reporting sides of the business.




Lewis denies the allegations, writing in an email to a Post reporter, “The Executive Editor is free to publish when, how, and what they want to. I am fully signed up to that.”

But the story only got worse as NPR Media Correspondent David Folkenflik claimed that Lewis had tempted him with an exclusive story about the future of the Washington Post — if only he’d drop a negative story he was pursuing on the British scandal.

In that email to a post reporter, Lewis insulted the well-respected Folkenflik, calling him “an activist, not a journalist” and claimed the conversation was off the record — though he did not explicitly deny Folkenflik’s story.

“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,” Folkenfilk wrote.

Making matters even worse, when a Post reporter approached Lewis for additional comment, Lewis “expressed his disapproval with The Post’s recent reporting on its own leadership changes,” the reporter wrote.

While he later apologized, it’s just one more smear in a messy, messy situation.

Why it matters: It’s difficult to understate just what a moment of crisis this is for one of America’s papers of record. The Post faces undeniable financial challenges, losing $77 million in 2023 alone. It does have the backing of billionaire Jeff Bezos, but no businessman wants to lose money forever.

Now it’s lost a well-respected executive editor and is trying to pave a path forward with a publisher and CEO whose behavior is dragging the organization into deeply problematic ethical territory. Given these accusations, it’s difficult to see how he could lead a news organization whose motto is “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

The internal challenges are daunting, but Lewis’ inability to respectfully handle the press with members of his own organization is deeply concerning from a PR perspective. Insulting an accuser is never wise, especially when they are as prominent as Folkenflik. Insulting his own organization’s reporting does nothing to convince people that he isn’t the sort of person who would try to kill a story he doesn’t like.

Lewis’ alleged attempts to kill stories are, once again, examples of the Streisand Effect in action. By trying to suppress these stories, he has drawn far, far more attention to complex stories of the British media than they ever would have garnered for an American audience.

It’s difficult to see how Lewis survives this scandal — or how the Post will move forward.

Editor’s Top Reads:

  • Twenty-seven EU states are voting this week on new representatives to the bloc’s parliament. As they head to the polls, Europeans are being flooded with disinformation as never before, the New York Times reports. It’s a jumbled ecosystem of lies driven by both far-right European politicians and “information operatives based outside Europe,” using old photos and videos being misrepresented as current, intentionally misinterpreted policy, and traditional inflammatory political ads. The overall goal, experts say, is to decrease trust in the EU and push people back to more nativist, nationalistic stances. While the EU has stronger regulations governing social media platforms and disinformation, the problem continues. As we come off a contentious Indian election that saw the heavy use of AI disinformation, this latest round of digital-age propaganda only emphasizes the need to get a handle on how these fabrications and obfuscations spread — and cast a worrisome pall over the upcoming American elections.
  • The May unemployment report offered a mixed bag for the United States. The economy added a more-than-expected 272,000 jobs during the month, busting Wall Street expectations of just 190,000 jobs. But the unemployment rate edged up to 4% for the first time since January 2022. And the indication that the job market remains strong overall also reduces the likelihood that the Federal Reserves will lower the interest rate — something the markets badly want. At the moment, CNBC reports that markets anticipate a rate reduction in September, with another in December, but ultimately, no one knows. The economy remains unpredictable.
  • Ikea is paying real people real money to tend fake stores in Roblox, the uber-popular metaverse game. CNN reports that 10 staffers based in the United Kingdom or Ireland will be paid £13.15 ($16.82) per hour, on par with workers in real stores. These workers will “work in different sections of the online store, helping people choose their furniture and serving digital meatballs,” according to CNN. It may sound ridiculous, but half of children aged 12-17 use Roblox in a given month. Getting this young demographic engaged with Ikea as they grow and furnish their first apartments is a clever move that could pay big dividends while also presenting ethical considerations.

Allison Carter is editor-in-chief of PR Daily. Follow her on or LinkedIn.


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