Inside the Post Coup

will lewis
The Post journalists’ attempt to investigate their own boss and future editor is their right and privilege—that’s how this business works, even if their work had an emotional agenda. Photo: Carlotta Cardana/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Dylan Byers
June 21, 2024

In early June, just days after Washington Post publisher and C.E.O. Will Lewis announced a surprise masthead restructuring that would replace executive editor Sally Buzbee with longtime Fleet Street veteran Rob Winnett, a group of Post journalists began scheming a plan to dig up dirt on their publisher and his new top editor. The Post newsroom had been on edge for days over the shake-up, and a new, somewhat nebulous plan to build a “third newsroom” of soft content to grow the Post’s audience. Lewis had amplified those anxieties by delivering hard, unvarnished truths about a business that had lost $77 million the previous year: “Your audience has halved in recent years,” he told his journalists. “People are not reading your stuff. I can’t sugarcoat it anymore.”

Most Post staff were aware that the business was suffering—they’d endured the aimless final years of the Fred Ryan administration, the subsequent buyouts, the Buzbee-era general malaise—but they were still wary of Lewis, his strategy, and his swarthy Fleet Street bravado. By that point, Buzbee had also told colleagues about the infamous meetings where, in her telling, Lewis had tried to dissuade her from publishing stories that included accusations about his involvement in a British phone-hacking scandal—a tale that the carrier pigeon would lay on the doorstep of the Times, metastasizing the crisis. (Lewis has denied pressuring Buzbee, and denied any wrongdoing in the hacking affair.) Buzbee’s smoke bomb expertly preyed upon all the Post newsroom’s most delicate triggers—latent concerns about Lewis’s journalistic ethics and his refusal to address questions about the hacking scandal to their satisfaction—and some journalists began to wonder whether the contretemps may have played a role in her resignation.