By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Let’s not overlook Will Lewis’ ‘controversial’ decision to pay £110,000 to a source

Washington Post publisher Will Lewis. 2019 public domain photo by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Although it’s been previously reported, it’s been lost amid the outrage over Washington Post publisher Will Lewis’ aggressive attempts to play down his role in the Murdochian phone-hacking scandal: 14 years ago, as editor of Britain’s Telegraph, he was involved in paying a source £110,000 for a database that contained information about dubious expenses incurred by members of Parliament. At the current exchange rate, that would equal about $140,000.

The payoff has been overlooked to some degree because British and U.S. ethical standards are different. NPR media reporter David Folkenflik, who mentioned the payoff last week in a larger story about the phone-hacking turmoil, put it this way: “It was hailed as a huge story, leading to resignations and reforms. But it violated a key component of major U.S. news outlets’ ethics codes against paying sources.”

That may be true, but even in the U.K. it was noteworthy enough to warrant a story in The Guardian, which in 2009 called it a “controversial payment.” Two other British papers, The Times and The Sun, both refused to pay for the information, although The Guardian did not specify whether ethical considerations had anything to do with that.

Not only was Lewis involved in the payment but so, too, was Robert Winnett, a reporter for The Telegraph back then and now its deputy editor. Lewis announced last week that Willett will become executive editor of The Washington Post this fall while interim executive editor Matt Murray will move over to head up a new operation devoted to service journalism and social media.

Correction: Matt Murray is not a Brit. I’ve updated this post and also corrected Winnett’s name.

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1 Comment

  1. Pink Panther

    The name of the British editor of the Washington Post who will take the reins after the US presidential election is Robert Winnett, not Willett. 🙂

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