Washington Post CEO Calls Reporter Who Exposed Quid Pro Quo Offer ‘an Activist, Not a Journalist’

Will Lewis doesn’t deny he offered NPR’s David Folkenflik an interview in exchange for dropping a negative story, says conversation was “off the record”

Will Lewis, CEO of Washington Post
Washington Post CEO Will Lewis (Credit: Getty Images)

Washington Post Publisher and CEO Will Lewis isn’t denying that he offered NPR’s David Folkenflik a quid-pro-quo arrangement to kill a story on his connection to the UK phone hacking scandal. Instead, he has claimed their conversation was “off the record” and insulted Folkenflik as “an activist, not a journalist.”

“I had an off-the-record conversation with him before I joined you at The Post and some six months later he has dusted it down, and made up some excuse to make a story of a non-story,” Lewis said in a statement given to the the Washington Post that also included his pejorative description of Folkenflik.

It’s the latest development in a growing scandal over the executive’s alleged efforts to interfere with news reporting that paints him in a bad light, which began after the sudden departure of Washington Post executive editor Sally Buzbee.

Lewis announced Buzbee’s resignation on Sunday but offered no explanation for it. Lewis announced at the same time that his former Wall Street Journal colleague Matt Murry would replace her.

But on Wednesday, the New York Times reported that less than a month before her exit, Lewis pressured Buzbee to quash a story the paper was working on that would have noted Lewis was likely to be named as a likely participant in the efforts at Rupert Murdoch-owned media outlets to cover up illegal phone hacking of celebrities in the 2000s.

According to that report, Lewis made statements similar to his dismissal of NPR’s reporting, telling Buzbee the story “did not merit coverage” and angrily accusing her of a “lapse in judgment” after she refused to budge. He has denied the NY Times reporting, but the Washington Post has separately confirmed it.

Lewis is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but he worked for multiple Murdoch-owned publications from 2010 to 2020, most recently the Wall Street Journal. He has since been named in the lawsuit

Then on Thursday Folkenflik wrote that in December, shortly after Lewis was announced as the Post’s new CEO and publisher, he repeatedly attempted to convince Folkenflik to drop a story about the phone hacking scandal and Lewis’ connection to it.

“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 said.

A 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,” Folkenflik added.

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