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Jeff Bezos breaks his silence about turmoil at The Washington Post

By Oliver Darcy, CNN

(CNN) — Jeff Bezos, the billionaire owner of The Washington Post, broke his silence Tuesday on the mounting turmoil within his newspaper, expressing support for maintaining high standards at the storied publication as questions swirl over the ethical integrity of its new publisher, Will Lewis.

“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,” Bezos said in an email to top newsroom leaders, signaling support for Lewis, though not explicitly.

Bezos added in the memo, which was obtained by CNN, that “it can’t be business as usual” at The Post, which has been plagued by financial and audience woes.

“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,” Bezos wrote. “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,” Bezos added.

The memo to The Post’s top personnel comes after serious questions were raised about Lewis, who has been the subject of several explosive reports in recent days that raise questions over whether he is committed to the newspaper’s rigorous journalistic standards.

The New York Times reported over the weekend that, in his Fleet Street days, Lewis assigned an article that was based on stolen phone records. And The Post itself reported in a 3,000-word front page story Sunday that a “thief” who used deceptive tactics to obtain private material had ties with Lewis’ hand-picked incoming top editor, Robert Winnett.

The stories, which landed like a one-two punch in The Post’s newsroom, followed reports that Lewis tried to suppress stories at The Post and NPR about his role cleaning up Rupert Murdoch’s UK phone hacking scandal, when he served as a lieutenant to the right-wing media mogul.

Instead of deescalating the situation, Lewis initially lashed out, going so far as to criticize his own media reporters and launch an on-the-record attack aimed at the well-respected NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik, who he referred to as an “activist, not a journalist.”

Lewis later sent a memo to staffers, striking a notably different, non-confrontational tone. But the note did not quell the growing anger within The Post.

Inside The Post’s newsroom, morale has plunged in recent months as alarmed staffers express frustration over Lewis’ conduct and worries over the future direction of the newspaper under his leadership.

Interviews with nearly a dozen Post staffers and others familiar with the internal dynamics of the newspaper this week revealed a workforce that has grown increasingly dismayed by the situation, with some searching for work elsewhere.

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, the professor and senior associate dean for leadership studies at the Yale School of Management, told CNN on Monday that Bezos should dismiss Lewis.

Sonnenfeld, who has advised US presidents and scores of corporate leaders, said that if he were advising Bezos, he would tell him Lewis has “lost legitimacy to lead” and it’s time to “clean the house.”

“This is a tragic meltdown of the conscience of American journalism bringing shame to the Katharine Graham, Ben Bradlee, Marty Baron legacy of collaboration, courage, and integrity,” Sonnenfeld said. “Bezos must recruit an accomplished, experienced editor whom journalists admire and trust.”

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