The Scoop: Washington Post journalists find skeletons in the closet of new leadership

Plus: Barclays pulls out of U.K. music festivals after protests; surgeon general seeks warning label for social media.

The Washington Post journalists are digging up dirt on new leadership

Robert Winnett, current deputy editor of The Telegraph, has been tapped to step into the top role at the Washington Post after the U.S. elections this November.

But that very newsroom is already investigating his past, and finding connections to a number of journalistic practices that — while perhaps more common in Winnett’s native Britain — are considered highly unethical in the States.

According to an investigation by the Post, Winnett has connections to a man named John Ford, who admitted to using “dishonest means” to dig up dirt on powerful British officials.

When Ford ran afoul of law enforcement actions, he called Winnett, who the Post reports, helped Ford obtain a lawyer, made plans to use burner phones for communications and told Ford that the “remarkable omertà” of British journalism would hide his crimes.




Ford’s practices are known in the U.K. as “blagging,” or using lies and misrepresentations to obtain information. While it may be accepted across the pond for some publications, contrary to codes of ethics in most major U.S. newsrooms, including the Post.

William Lewis, a fellow Brit who appointed Winnett to his role, is also under intense scrutiny for journalistic endeavors that contrast with American standards. The New York Times accused Lewis over the weekend of using fraudulently obtained records in his reporting. That’s on top of allegations that Lewis tried to kill unfavorable stories at both the Post and NPR.

Why it matters: When hiring any top executive for a new role, it’s always wise to do a thorough background check. This doesn’t simply mean criminal record. This means going through their past with a fine-tooth comb to ensure it will hold up to scrutiny when they are thrust into the spotlight.

That’s doubly true when the employees of these new executives are some of the best investigative journalists in the world.

If the recruiting team at the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post did that due diligence, it isn’t in evidence in their responses to these controversies as they come to light. Neither Winnett nor Lewis has offered responses for the investigations, either personally or through a spokesperson.

It’s true that there are definitive cultural and ethical differences between British and American newsrooms. This should have been easily identified during the hiring phase and come with a comprehensive communications plan to get ahead of any potential culture clashes, to respond to new information and to chart a path moving forward.

None of that seems to have happened. Each response seems to have caught business leaders at the Post flat-footed.

Leadership changes are a particularly delicate time for any organization, and assuring alignment between incoming leaders and the values and ethics of an organization takes work.  Digging deep with top-level talent and coming prepared with messaging that can help bolster any past missteps can help smooth the way forward.

Editor’s Top Reads:

  • In other British news, Barclays has suspended its sponsorship of Live Nation music festivals in 2024 after waves of artists protested the bank’s involvement with arms companies that trade in Israel, the BBC reported. Multiple artists, ranging from musicians to comedians, pulled out of planned festival slots after they became aware of Barclays’ investment in arms companies. “The protesters’ agenda is to have Barclays debank defence companies which is a sector we remain committed to as an essential part of keeping this country and our allies safe,” the bank said in a statement. The protests have also led to harassment of employees and vandalism of branches, according to the statement. “The only thing that this small group of activists will achieve is to weaken essential support for cultural events enjoyed by millions,” the statement said. It’s a pointed, ferocious statement in the face of broad pushback. Barclays is defending its core business at the expense of what was once an uncontroversial act: sponsoring music festivals. But it also shows the increasing power of protestors, including prominent artists, in staging boycotts.
  • And speaking of boycotts, Bud Light continues to face lagging sales even more than a year after conservatives pushed back on the brand for working with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney, ABC News reported. While the beer is once again the top-selling in the U.S. by volume, revenue continues well below pre-boycott levels. “Once a consumer drops off a product — where there is a readily available and similarly priced substitute — a habit has formed and it’s difficult to shake that habit,” a wholesale executive said. “We have to give them a reason to come back.” It’s a rare boycott that holds long-lasting repercussions for a brand. Bud Light has been altering their messaging and advertising to draw customers back — but will it ever return to its glory days?
  • S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has penned a New York Times op-ed to explain why he’s calling on Congress to apply warning labels to social media platforms. “A surgeon general’s warning label, which requires congressional action, would regularly remind parents and adolescents that social media has not been proved safe. Evidence from tobacco studies show that warning labels can increase awareness and change behavior,” he wrote. He also pointed to data indicating that parents would be more likely to monitor their children’s social media use if faced with such a warning. Still, it seems a difficult sell to equate a warning of lung cancer on a physical pack of cigarettes to a pop-up — one of hundreds we see every day — on a social media site warning of the more ambiguous and less-understood problem of mental health. Still, we are seeing a major shift toward the regulatory stance toward social media use, particularly for children. This could be the next step toward major changes.

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


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