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Jeff Bezos is under fire at the Washington Post as patience wears thin among staffers

Editor’s Note: Sign up for the daily digest chronicling the evolving media landscape here. New York CNN  —  When will Jeff Bezos actually address the upheaval roiling his newsroom? The Washington Post owner and Amazon billionaire has yet to take any real action to quell concerns at his newspaper, which remains engulfed in disarray as explosive reports are published day after day throwing the ethical integrity of the outlet’s new publisher, Will Lewis, into serious question. Staffers at The Post are losing their patience with Bezos, whose only action thus far responding to the Lewis calamity has been to fire off a paltry, 138-word, single-paragraph memo from his Mediterranean yachting vacation to a handful of leaders at The Post, assuring them that he wants standards to remain “very high.” In the eyes of staffers at The Post, that is the very issue. They too want standards to remain “very high” and fear that Lewis, and incoming editor Robert Winnett, pose an active danger to that shared goal. Frustrations and concerns are so high at the outlet that two of the institution’s Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists have chosen to speak out on the record, calling for a change in leadership, an unheard of step at the storied newspaper. David Maraniss, an associate editor who has worked at The Post for nearly five decades, said he doesn’t “know a single person at the Post who thinks the current situation with the publisher and supposed new editor can stand.” And Scott Higham, who has worked at The Post for more than two decades, agreed and called for Lewis’ head. “Will Lewis needs to step down for the good of The Post and the public,” wrote Higham on Facebook. “He has lost the newsroom and will never win it back.” Suffice to say, Maraniss and Higham are just saying aloud what much of the newsroom is thinking. In conversations with more than a dozen people inside and close to The Post this week, it’s been made clear that Lewis, in his brief six months on the job, has totally alienated staff and now faces insurmountable odds to win back the employee base he seeks to lead. Whether he has good business ideas or not, is not the question. He’s lost the respect of his staff. And any good leader will tell you, without a legitimacy to lead, it is unfeasible to get anything done, let alone stage a Herculean business transformation. A spokesperson for Bezos did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday. But surely the billionaire understands the dire situation gripping The Post. And it taxes the imagination to believe that he really believes his brief memo to The Post’s leadership was enough to extinguish the concerns that have spurred the unprecedented uproar at the newspaper. In fact, it’s notable that Bezos has not explicitly voiced support for Lewis in recent days, giving him options as he evaluates the deteriorating situation and determines how to stem the bleeding. Will Lewis, founder of The News Movement, at the publisher's headquarters in London, UK, on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023. Carlotta Cardana/Bloomberg/Getty Images/File Related article Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post journalists call for leadership change amid publisher scrutiny Staffers at The Post are very much waiting for Bezos to take some meaningful form of action. Since anger at Lewis erupted earlier this month, CNN has been repeatedly told by those who work at the outlet that the ongoing drama has distracted the newsroom from its invaluable work. Suffice to say, with a high-stakes election only months away, it is anything but ideal to have the attention of one of the nation’s preeminent news organizations diverted by internal turmoil whirling within its walls. It’s “a massive distraction,” one Postie underscored to me Thursday, adding that The Guardian’s eyebrow-raising story accusing Lewis of having once advised then-U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “clean up” his phone during the so-called “Partygate” scandals is “the talk of the newsroom.” (Lewis and Johnson denied the story.) “I don’t think the mood will change until something else changes,” the staffer added. In the absence of Bezos, the stories raising questions about Lewis’ ethical integrity keep coming. The Financial Times reported Thursday that Lewis still “retains links” to a public relations firm that advises high-powered corporate and political leaders how to navigate thorny situations. While the FT reported Lewis had sold his ownership stake in the business, the outlet noted the firm has “continued to distribute regular emails from Lewis,” causing “confusion among people in contact with the agency.” While the FT’s Thursday story certainly did not carry with it the same weight as the reports that have been published in recent days from other news outlets, it added yet additional questions about Lewis’ history and entanglements. Meanwhile, it is likely that many more questions will be raised in the future as The Post and outlets such as The New York Times continue to take a hard look at Lewis’ history. And as those questions keep coming, those at The Post will certainly have one in particular for Bezos: What are you planning to do to restore the respect and status of your storied newspaper?