Washington Post’s own coverage of incoming editor prompts change of plan

Personnel drama at revered newspaper has been playing out on its pages for weeks

The man named as the Washington Post's incoming executive editor, Robert Winnett, will no longer take up the role. Photograph: Justin T. Gellerson/The New York Times

Well, that was embarrassing. After spending 19 days as the incoming executive editor of the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post, a role he was due to take up after the US presidential election, Robert Winnett has now withdrawn from the appointment and will be staying put as deputy editor of the Telegraph.

The British journalist’s transatlantic move is off, while the position of the man who tapped him for the role, Washington Post chief executive Will Lewis, is in some jeopardy.

The newspaper has become the story, with that story playing out on the pages of the Washington Post itself. When Lewis, who took up his CEO role just six months ago, said Winnett would “restore an even greater degree of investigative rigour to our organisation”, he probably wasn’t banking on its existing level of investigative rigour making it virtually impossible for his former colleague to join him at the Post.

“Incoming Post editor tied to self-described ‘thief’ who claimed role in his reporting,” read one key headline, which referred to Winnett’s alleged story-getting techniques when he worked for the Sunday Times. The Washington-headquartered non-profit National Public Radio (NPR) and the New York Times have also published several reports about what the NYT called Winnett’s “ties to unethical news gathering practices in Britain” as well as the Post’s internal handling of the story.


Lewis, who is also British, set these events in motion when he offered executive editor Sally Buzbee a role leading its “third newsroom”, a proposed “social media and service journalism” division. As this was an effective demotion, she resigned.

Lewis then installed former Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Matt Murray as interim executive editor, though it is a former senior managing editor, Cameron Barr, who is shepherding the newspaper’s coverage of itself. After the election, Murray will move to oversee the new division, leaving Lewis with a search to make for an executive editor of “core” coverage.

Given he has also come under pressure as a result of how he helped former employer News International – part of Rupert Murdoch’s empire, now known as News UK – manage the fallout from the phone hacking scandal, it is uncertain whether Lewis will be around long enough to complete this search.

The controversies have shone an intriguing light on cultural differences between what is deemed acceptable by, and at, editorial top-tables in the US compared to the UK, where Telegraph editor Chris Evans was happy yesterday to tell staff of Winnett: “As you all know, he’s a talented chap and their loss is our gain.”