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'Washington Post' CEO and editor under scrutiny for how they broke stories in U.K.


The newsroom of The Washington Post is on knife's edge. Two leaders are under intense scrutiny for how they broke stories back in the U.K. That would be the Post's new chief executive and the editor he has named to lead the newsroom permanently starting in November. Our media correspondent, NPR's David Folkenflik, has been reporting on those Washington Post execs. Hey, David.


KELLY: OK. So these two are British. What did they do back in Britain that is now causing such an uproar?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, there's a lot of intense scrutiny about some of their episodes in their past life. And I'll give you examples of things that just wouldn't fly here at major institutions. They together paid for a big scoop at the time, about 110,000 pounds back in 2009. It showed members of Parliament were charging all sorts of things to the taxpayer they shouldn't. But paying that money for what was alleged to be a stolen database, that would have been out of bounds at the Post and at NPR and other places.

Rob Winnett, who is tagged to be the next editor of the main newsroom at The Washington Post, was accused of planting a source, a junior 23-year-old reporter, in a secretarial pool that served the prime minister of Britain. She fed, you know, scores of documents that were printed in The Sunday Times of London when both men worked there. That would be out of bounds. It actually may well have broken British laws, although it wasn't prosecuted. She was arrested, exposed her to some jeopardy there.

They relied, according to recent reports - in fact, on the private eye himself - on a private eye who engaged in subterfuge and deception to get private documents from some of the people that they were reporting on. Will Lewis, who is the publisher and chief executive of The Washington Post, and Rob Winnett, as I said, his choice to be the next editor, supposed to start after the November elections, have not denied these things. They've basically not said anything.

KELLY: I will note that the Post, to its credit, has been aggressively reporting on itself, on all these developments. Where do things stand at the Post? What is the latest for the newsroom?

FOLKENFLIK: So right now it's being overseen by a guy named Matt Murray, who used to be the top editor at The Wall Street Journal, actually for Will Lewis, when Lewis was publisher there. He's well-regarded. They've just brought back someone who had sought the top editor job several years ago, a retired senior managing editor named Cameron Barr. He's going to oversee coverage of the story with the perhaps input of Matt Murray to make sure that they're meeting the Post standards of independence from the publishers influence of this. Why does that matter? Well, as the Post is reporting vigorously on it, we should remember, Will Lewis sought to essentially pressure his previous top editor not to cover the story, and, in fact, pressured me not to do that back when I first raised some of these issues in December.

KELLY: Yeah, as you have reported for us here at NPR. OK. So put on your analyst hat for sec, David. What are you watching for in these next few days at the Post?

FOLKENFLIK: So the Post obviously is owned outright by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. And he appointed Lewis, who did well at the Journal, to put it on a good solid track for digital subscriptions, paying subscribers, to meet a big financial challenge. The Post lost $77 million there last year. It lost about half of its digital readership. They need to do well.

But at the same time, there's this crisis because their leaders don't seem to embody the values of the newsroom. So it looks as though right now Rob Winnett is not sustainable. I don't think he's ever going to step foot in the newsroom even though he's supposed to come in November. And the question of whether Will Lewis can continue after all this scrutiny, after the fact there may be many other headlines to come, that's up to Jeff Bezos.

KELLY: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Thank you for your reporting.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.