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Another New Washington Post Editor Has the Same Old Murdoch History

Another New Washington Post Editor Has the Same Old Murdoch History

Maybe you’re sick of hearing about all the turmoil over at the Washington Post in recent weeks. How Sir William Lewis, a veteran of the Murdoch news empire, now WaPo’s CEO, has sparked outrage amongst much of the staff by pushing out editor Sally Buzbee and bringing in his British buddy Robert Winnett. But there’s another new player at the paper — also a Murdoch vet — who has been getting less ink, although there’s clearly plenty of ink to spill. That’d be Matt Murray, the Post’s new Executive Editor.

Two years ago, during the summer of 2022, when Murray was editor in chief of The Wall Street Journal, that paper ran a bombshell story headlined “Elon Musk’s Friendship With Sergey Brin Ruptured by Alleged Affair.” The story detailed how the Tesla chief had an alleged liaison with the Google billionaire’s estranged wife (and now RFK Jr. running mate) Nicole Shanahan, which led to the couple’s acrimonious divorce. Several hours after the Journal story was posted Musk turned to Twitter to issue a fervent denial. “This is total BS,” he tweeted. “Sergey and I are friends and were at a party together last night! I’ve only seen Nicole twice in three years, both times with many other people around. Nothing romantic.” 

Rattled by the billionaire’s bluster, and with Shanahan also denying the yarn, Murray, who had closely edited the story, quickly gathered the reporters, their editors, several of the paper’s lawyers and a member of the Journal’s standards department for an emergency late-night call. By all accounts, the July 26th meeting did not go well. According to multiple people familiar with the situation, Murray, seemingly concerned that the Journal had gotten it wrong and the sources (who were anonymous) were lying was screaming and launching profanities throughout the tense 45-minute call, and even threatened to out the sources on the story if they did not agree to go on the record with their account. The reporters, Kirsten Grind and Emily Glazer and at least one of their editors, firmly pushed back, flatly refusing to even consider breaking one of journalism’s covenants, according to the people familiar with the matter. “We are the Wall Street Journal, and we do what we want,” Murray is said to have responded. He argued that the reputation of the paper was at risk if Musk was telling the truth, so the sources had to put their names to the affair claims. It was only when the paper’s lawyer stepped in to overrule Murray, reminding him that they could not break source confidentiality, that Murray dropped his bizarre demand.

Soon after, the Journal went on to issue a statement saying, “We are confident in our sourcing, and we stand by our reporting” with no discussion of a correction. But Murray was not through. He personally called one of the story’s sources to again demand that they go on the record, according to the people familiar with the situation. The Musk/Brin story turned out to be true and more intimate details were published in a sensational account in the New York Times in May. 

Murray, who was admired and respected at the Journal for his news judgment, was said to be under an intense amount of pressure at the time and had become increasingly paranoid, with rumors swirling he was going to be replaced as EIC with Brit Emma Tucker which was confirmed later that year. “While I dispute some details of this reporting, it is inappropriate to discuss sensitive and confidential newsgathering,” Murray told Hot Source in a statement. “I did lose my temper though and deeply regret it. I stand behind that story and its work from our team at that time. I’m proud of my 35-year career of embodying and living to the highest standards in journalism.” A spokesperson for WaPo said: “The Washington Post sets and models the highest ethical standards in journalism to which every Post employee is expected to adhere.” A rep for The Wall Street Journal declined to comment.

This story first appeared in “Hot Source,” THR’s scoop-filled new weekly newsletter about media, Hollywood and politics by investigative reporter Lachlan Cartwright. Subscribe here.

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