The Washington Post is digging its own grave

Cameron Barr stepped down as managing editor in 2023; now he’s overseeing the coverage of ethical controversies involving senior Post staff

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It takes a master to untangle the web of drama being spun at the Washington Post these days. Fortunately, Cockburn knows a thing or two. 

The recent drama concerns Sir William Lewis’s appointment as CEO, handpicked by owner Jeff Bezos, and the subsequent attempt by Lewis to dissuade journalists from covering his role in a long-running British phone hacking scandal (he denies any involvement), which supposedly contributed to the recent and abrupt departure of former editor Sally Buzbee. Add that to the earlier stories of Cameron Barr stepping down in 2023 as managing editor after nineteen…

It takes a master to untangle the web of drama being spun at the Washington Post these days. Fortunately, Cockburn knows a thing or two. 

The recent drama concerns Sir William Lewis’s appointment as CEO, handpicked by owner Jeff Bezos, and the subsequent attempt by Lewis to dissuade journalists from covering his role in a long-running British phone hacking scandal (he denies any involvement), which supposedly contributed to the recent and abrupt departure of former editor Sally Buzbee. Add that to the earlier stories of Cameron Barr stepping down in 2023 as managing editor after nineteen years and the lawsuit filed by former Post journalist Felicia Sonmez in 2021, who went ham on her colleagues on Twitter and was subsequently fired.

Robert Winnett is set to become the new editor of the Washington Post, but he is connected to the Lewis controversies — controversies that former editor Cameron Barr has now been asked to oversee stories on! Not to mention the fact that the Post has lost millions of dollars because people don’t want to read their stuff — $77 million in 2023.

“Given perceived and potential conflicts, we have asked former senior managing editor Cameron Barr, who stepped down from that position in 2023 and now has a contractual relationship as a senior associate editor, to oversee this coverage,” a spokeswoman for the Post said. Apparently they didn’t want Lewis and Winnett to cover their own story.

The Post has already dropped its first article addressing the controversies, titled “Incoming Post editor tied to self-described ‘thief’ who claimed role in his reporting.” However, it followed pieces published by the New York Times and NPR. The story concerns Lewis’s and Winnett’s connection to John Ford, a “once aspiring actor who has since admitted to an extensive career using deception and illegal means to obtain confidential information for Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper.”

There is technically no proof of the connection as both Lewis and Winnett declined to comment, but the piece connects suspicious bank transactions and match-ups with Ford’s illegally obtained information and Winnett’s and Lewis’s stories. Like any organization, leaders of the Post want to cover their own butts, but that has become difficult when employees have become entirely disenchanted with “white British men we don’t know” and continuously leak stories.

Will Lewis and new interim executive editor Matt Murray called the staff into a last-minute meeting on June 3. The purpose of the meeting: tell the staff about Buzbee’s resignation before the New York Times could report on it. “We found out on a Sunday evening in an email. That’s not how well-functioning companies announce major personnel news. What the fuck — that’s how I feel right now,” one staffer told Vanity Fair.

Lewis has created a hostile newsroom, partly due to hiring many of his friends. During the meeting, a reporter asked Lewis whether “any women or people of color were interviewed and seriously considered for either of these positions” prompting applause. Lewis said the process of meeting with new candidates was an “iterative, messy process, which I don’t want to go into the details of.” He also admitted that diversity was not great and vowed to do better going forward.

“It’s as bad as I’ve ever seen it, truly,” one staffer told CNN. Slack discussions among Washington Post guild employees have been very emotional, according to Axios.

Owner Jeff Bezos had not commented on the matter, until today. Bezos said in a memo Tuesday:

Team – I know you’ve already heard this from Will, but I wanted to also weigh in directly: the journalistic standards and ethics at the Post will not change. To be sure, it can’t be business as usual at the Post. The world is evolving rapidly and we do need to change as a business. With your support, we’ll do that and lead this great institution into the future. But, as the newsroom leaders who’ve been shaping and guiding our coverage, you also know our standards at the Post have always been very high. That can’t change — and it won’t. You have my full commitment on maintaining the quality, ethics, and standards we all believe in. A huge thank you for continuing to do the work that makes us all proud, and makes this institution so important.”

The Post is divided into two newsrooms, news and opinion. But Lewis announced in January his plan to add an audience-focused newsroom, as opposed to whatever the “Posties” had been doing for their subscribers previously. This could be what Bezos is referring to when he says “the world is evolving rapidly and we do need to change as a business.” Unfortunately, Sally Buzbee resigned soon after Lewis’s announcement. For claiming that democracy dies in darkness, there seems to be quite a bit of resistance when it comes shedding light on the inner workings of the Post.