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Will Lewis and The Washington Post: ‘Real Journalists Don’t Ignore the Failings of Their Own Industry the Way the UK Press Does’

In the US, reporters on The Washington Post are investigating their own bosses – and their stories get published. It is hard to even contemplate such fearless reporting happening in the UK, writes Brian Cathcart

Photo: Kristoffer Tripplaar/Alamy

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Will Lewis may not be a well-known name in the UK, but he is getting to be quite famous in the United States, if not in a good way. He is a journalist and, in fact, he is really Sir Will Lewis, since he received a knighthood last year in Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list. You can tell a lot from that. 

Lewis was once Editor of the Telegraph but shifted into management in the Murdoch empire when the phone-hacking scandal was erupting there.

He now works for Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos as publisher of the venerable Washington Post. Whatever Bezos might say publicly, he must in retrospect be regretting the appointment.

Thanks to that Murdoch connection, Lewis is now turning into an ethical test case for American journalism. And not only is the Post’s big rival, The New York Times, making hay with stories about his past, but the Post itself is also publishing investigative work.

While this is reminding Americans just what an ethical sewer the UK national press is, there is also a lesson in it for the British media: real journalists report on scandals in their own industry – even their own publications – because failure to do so harms everyone. 

At its briefest, what Lewis is accused of is that: (a) he played a leading role in the attempted cover-up of phone-hacking in the Murdoch papers. (b) he paid money for a scoop. And (c) that he has now appointed as Executive Editor of the Post another British journalist who himself is accused of past involvement in hacking.

As if that was not bad enough (at least in the eyes of many American journalists), he is also now charged with: (d) doing his best to suppress, in very questionable ways, the reporting of these accusations in the US media. 

Lewis and his appointee as Executive Editor, Robert Winnett, both deny wrongdoing. 

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Five Editors and a Blind Eye

If you wanted to see proof of the ethical gulf that separates US newspaper culture from UK newspaper culture you could not ask for better than this story, because consider this: the current editors of no fewer than five UK national newspapers either stand accused of having employed unlawful methods to gather information; or have been found by judges to have done so.

This roll of honour includes the Editors of The Times, Tony Gallagher; and of its sister paper The Sunday Times, Ben Taylor.

And it is not just anyone who has made the accusations against Gallagher and Taylor. They form part of a huge breach of privacy case brought against the Mail newspapers by, among others, Baroness Doreen Lawrence, former Liberal Democrat MP and minister Sir Simon Hughes, Prince Harry, and Elton John. 

Also accused are Victoria Newton, Editor of The Sun; and David Dillon, Editor of the Mail on Sunday.

All four deny the accusations, or at least they are denied on their behalf by the Mail group.

As for the fifth, Gary Jones, Editor-in-Chief of the Express newspapers, he has been found by not one but two High Court judges to have been very deeply engaged in law-breaking.

Whereas in the United States Will Lewis is challenged about his past, even on the front of his own newspaper, nothing comparable is happening to these five editors in the UK.

Neither their own newspapers nor their supposed rivals in the press report these issues – and nobody else in the mainstream news media seems to care. Indeed, both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer are both happy to meet and deal with them. While the owners of the Mirror, Reach, continue employing Jones as if nothing was wrong. 

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When I describe the UK national press as an ethical sewer, this is what I mean. This is not a case of ‘dog doesn’t eat dog’ – it is dog covering up for dog.

Hacking was a 20-year spree of law-breaking involving hundreds of journalists and spreading across lots of titles. The failure to address it is a conspiracy of journalists against the public. 

It should not be necessary to explain why it is important for journalists to report on things that go wrong in their own industry. And yet, it obviously is, so here goes.

A Duty and a Privilege

Journalists, whether it is individually, for their particular news organisations, or as an industry, must tell the truth.

It is their job to bear witness to events. Of course they can’t report everything. And of course the matter of selection inevitably involves the introduction of bias. But there remains a duty, an obligation, to try as hard as possible to present an honest view of the world to readers and viewers.

Withholding what you know to be news from those readers and viewers, in any circumstances, is a clear departure from that duty and a breach of trust. 

It is doubly wrong for journalists to withhold damaging information about their own industry. They are the people entrusted by the public with that mission to report the truth and, what’s more, they are happy to claim that this gives them a special place in society, with special rights and protections. They also have special access to powerful megaphones – newspapers, TV stations, social media – to communicate what they have to tell. 

Failing to report on the industry’s failures is therefore more than covering-up – it is an abuse of the special position that journalism enjoys in our society and of those privileges and powers that journalists have.

This is all the worse because, by collectively concealing the facts, the industry is uniquely able to fool most of the people most of the time, and so give itself immunity from responsibility.  


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What is happening in UK journalism today – the refusal of so many leading news organisations to report on and investigate a scandal of vast dimensions – is or should be shaming to everyone in the industry.

It is not good enough to say ‘media is not my patch’, and it is downright disgraceful to say that ‘dog doesn’t eat dog’ – because, every day, trust in all journalism is being corroded. And that way everybody loses. 

‘Democracy dies in darkness’ is the slogan of The Washington Post, the newspaper’s promise that it will fight to keep the light switched on. While the Post’s journalists are doing just that in the case of Will Lewis, literally thousands of journalists in the UK national press, by their failure to act, as well as through their actions, are conspiring to turn the light off.

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