Washington Post’s CEO Promised Interview for Squashing Story, NPR Reporter Says

Will Lewis, the chief executive of The Washington Post, repeatedly offered an exclusive interview to an NPR reporter if the reporter agreed not to write about allegations against Mr. Lewis in a phone-hacking scandal in Britain, according to an account by that reporter published on Thursday.

David Folkenflik, a veteran media reporter for NPR, wrote that a spokesperson for Mr. Lewis confirmed the offer in December. That spokesperson declined to comment when approached again Thursday, according to NPR.

“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,” Mr. Folkenflik wrote.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Lewis said that “when he was a private citizen ahead of joining The Washington Post, he had off the record conversations with an employee of NPR about a story the employee then published.” The spokeswoman said any interview requests with Mr. Lewis after he joined The Post were “processed through the normal corporate communication channels.”

In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Folkenflik said he did not violate an off-the-record agreement with Mr. Lewis to report Thursday’s article. He also said that he decided to disclose the conversation with Mr. Lewis and his spokesperson now in light of recent turmoil at The Washington Post, including the abrupt resignation of its executive editor on Sunday.

“I thought the audacity of the offer was notable,” Mr. Folkenflik said. “And given what’s playing out right now at The Post, I thought it was worth noting in public.”

On Sunday, Mr. Lewis announced that Sally Buzbee had resigned as executive editor and that Matt Murray, a former top editor at The Wall Street Journal, would be her temporary replacement. After the presidential election, Robert Winnett, a British editor, will oversee the core news operation and Mr. Murray will manage a new division focused on social media and service journalism.

Mr. Lewis, who was named chief executive of The Post late last year, is accused in court filings of helping to cover up illegal phone hacking at British publications owned by Rupert Murdoch more than a decade ago. In May, in a case brought by Prince Harry and others, a judge ruled that the plaintiffs could add Mr. Lewis’s name to a list of executives they argued were involved in a plan to conceal evidence of hacking at the newspapers.

Mr. Lewis has strongly denied any wrongdoing in that case. Though he is named in the lawsuit, he is not a defendant.

Mr. Folkenflik, who has long chronicled the Murdoch media empire, first reported on the accusations against Mr. Lewis in December 2023, after Mr. Lewis had been named as the next chief executive of The Post, and since then has covered developments in the court case.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Mr. Lewis clashed with Ms. Buzbee over the newspaper’s coverage of the phone-hacking scandal in the weeks leading up to her departure.

Ms. Buzbee informed Mr. Lewis in mid-May that the newsroom planned to cover the coming ruling from the judge. Mr. Lewis told Ms. Buzbee the case involving him did not merit coverage, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.

When Ms. Buzbee said The Post would publish an article anyway, he said her decision represented a lapse in judgment. The interaction rattled Ms. Buzbee, but the article was published and Mr. Lewis did not interfere with its publication.

A spokeswoman for The Post declined to comment on The Times article published on Wednesday. On Thursday, a spokeswoman for Mr. Lewis said The Times’s “account of a meeting he had with the then-executive editor is inaccurate.”

Ms. Buzbee resigned on Sunday. The interaction over the court ruling was not the primary reason for her resignation. Ms. Buzbee, who was the first female executive editor at The Post and led the newsroom to six Pulitzers during her three-year tenure, had already been mulling her future because of a plan by Mr. Lewis to reorganize the newsroom that would have reduced her role.

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