(New York) “A great move to make the damn [newspaper] more relevant and readable. »

Last week, Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s sultry ally, offered this scathing opinion to the British newspaper The Guardian when speaking about one of the Washington Post’s recent hires.

This must have made several journalists shudder within this prestigious daily, which is going through a serious crisis of confidence because of the very man responsible for this hiring.

This crisis of confidence does not only concern the Post, the flagship of the American press. It arises from journalistic and financial problems that affect the entire industry. And it reflects an astonishing phenomenon: the invasion of British journalists at the helm of major American media.

The man at the heart of this crisis is Will Lewis. Last November, the owner of the Washington Post, billionaire Jeff Bezos, appointed CEO of his newspaper the 55-year-old manager who had previously run the Daily Telegraph, a British daily, and the Wall Street Journal, the American jewel of the media empire by Rupert Murdoch.

His journalistic feat, as editor-in-chief of the Telegraph, would have earned him criticism or dismissal in the United States: in 2009, his newspaper paid a source $150,000 – an ethical fault within the American press – to acquire documents whose publication revealed an authentic scandal, that of the expense reports of British MPs, and led to the resignation of six ministers and the Speaker of the House of Commons.

His name joins a growing list of Britons appointed to run American media companies. These include Mark Thompson, who moved from the New York Times to CNN, Hugh Dougherty, recently recruited by the Daily Beast site, and John Micklethwait, hired by Bloomberg News.

“It’s a curious phenomenon,” said Margaret Sullivan, former mediator for the New York Times and former media columnist for the Washington Post, who sees it as a desire to change the “metabolism” of these media through aggressive leaders. “who are not entangled in old practices.”

“Looking to Fleet Street, and in many cases to people who worked in the Murdoch group, would not be my first choice, because I think Murdoch has done a lot of harm in the world,” she said. added, citing in particular the role of Fox News in spreading “lies” that have damaged American democracy.

But the new CEO’s recovery plan is at the root of this crisis of confidence that could cost him his job. Will Lewis revealed the plan to the newspaper’s staff on Sunday night, June 2, in an email in which he abruptly announced the resignation of Sally Buzbee, editor-in-chief of three years. Buzbee, it was later learned, considered the new division, separate from the editorial staff, that Lewis wanted to give her as a demotion. The division will be devoted to “service journalism and social media.”

In his email, Will Lewis said that Robert Winnett, a former colleague at the Daily Telegraph, “will be responsible for overseeing key areas of coverage, including politics, investigations, business, technology, sports and reporting”.

Robert Winnett is the same British journalist who counts Steve Bannon among his admirers.

The next morning, Will Lewis faced a shocked newsroom. And he did not use white gloves to justify his decisions, including the hiring of Matt Murray, one of his former colleagues at the Wall Street Journal, to replace Sally Buzbee.

“We are losing a lot of money,” he said in response to a question. Your audience has halved in recent years. People don’t read your stuff. I can’t make this up anymore. So I have decided to take decisive and urgent action to set us on a different path, seeking out the talent I have worked with who are the best of the best. »

Fact that displeased several journalists: the best of the best are all white men.

Two days later, Will Lewis found himself in the hot seat. The New York Times revealed that he had a confrontation with Sally Buzbee in the weeks before his departure. The CEO reportedly told the editor-in-chief that publishing an article mentioning his name in connection with the Prince Harry wiretapping affair would be a “lack of judgment.” The article, which was published, revealed that Will Lewis is accused in court documents of helping to cover up illegal wiretapping carried out by British media outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Will Lewis, who denies the accusations, should have recused himself from the affair, according to Margaret Sullivan, who is now a Guardian columnist and director of the Newmark Center for Journalistic Ethics and Safety at Columbia University.

“Publishers think they are all-powerful and they would like to control every aspect of the business, including the newsroom,” said the woman who also served as editor-in-chief of the Buffalo News.

The Post boss denied using the words “lack of judgment” in his discussions with Sally Buzbee. But he was not at the end of his troubles. Last Thursday, NPR journalist David Folkenflik revealed that Will Lewis had promised him an exclusive interview if he agreed not to write about the allegations against him in connection with the wiretapping scandal. He refused this offer, which was contrary to journalistic ethics.

Will Lewis’ reaction? He accused David Folkenflik of being “an activist, not a journalist.” Criticized from all sides, he apologized Friday evening in a message to his troops. But can he regain their trust?

“I don’t know if the trust of those in the newsroom is going to be regained quickly,” replied Margaret Sullivan. Because these two incidents, one with Sally Buzbee and the other with NPR’s David Folkenflik, are simply not what this newsroom expects from its leader. »

No offense to Steve Bannon.