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"Democracy Dies in Darkness" isn't just the Washington Post's motto. It's a model of how its journalists shine a light on scandal — including the one that's unfolding in its own newsroom.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal is shining a light on a non-democracy through the paper's unflinching advocacy for Evan Gershkovich, its journalist jailed in Russia.

Together, it's a reflection of how the U.S. news model, despite operating amid extraordinary change and challenge, is worthy of the democracy it serves.

In Washington, recent readership and revenue declines led Post owner Jeff Bezos to shake up the paper's leadership. But instead of the steady hand of executive editor Sally Buzbee or other adherents to the paper's legacy of legendary executives like Katharine Graham or journalists like Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and the scores more who have earned Pulitzer Prizes (including three this year alone), Bezos chose Will Lewis, a scandal-shadowed Brit, to be the paper's publisher and CEO. Lewis, in turn, turned to another Fleet Street veteran with seemingly sketchy ethics, Robert Winnett, to be the next executive editor.

Since then, allegations of assorted sordid journalistic practices have arisen, including involvement in stories based on allegedly fraudulently obtained business and phone records. The Post's pursuit of the story reportedly led to a clash between Buzbee and Lewis, which may have played a role in her departure. What's more, when NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik approached Lewis about a court case involving phone-hacking allegations, Folkenflik reported that Lewis "repeatedly — and heatedly — offered to give me an exclusive interview about the Post's future, as long as I dropped the story about the allegations." Lewis later lashed out about Folkenflik, wrongly calling the venerable reporter "an activist, not a journalist."

The ever-evolving story is being pursued as aggressively at the Post as it is at the New York Times, NPR and elsewhere, with the latest developments being two current Post Pulitzer Prize winners calling for Lewis and Winnett to go. And now one will: Winnett will not join the Post, the paper announced on Friday. As for Lewis, who is now denying that he advised then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his allies to "clean up" their phones regarding a COVID-protocol scandal (an action that could have destroyed evidence critical to an investigation), Bezos seems to be backing him — for now, as indicated in a staff email that also pledged that "the journalistic standards and ethics at the Post will not change."

Within the newsroom, they clearly haven't. With the executives, however, it's unclear.

"From the standards of the newsgathering and what I would call ethics standards, the British journalists operate in a very different way," said Jane Kirtley, the director of the University of Minnesota's Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law. U.K. and U.S. standards, she said, "simply aren't the same as a general rule."

Kirtley, who lived in Washington for years and still reads the Post daily, lauded its "long tradition of vigorous reporting and holding governments accountable." But, she emphasized, doing it legally and ethically.

The inside-the-Beltway, inside-the-industry scandal might seem unseemly — yet ultimately unimportant. And, in fact, Kirtley acknowledges it may have mattered less a generation ago. But amid a news media pressed by contraction, any constriction of such an essential voice as the Post is concerning.

"As a society, we need newspapers that are independent, we need newspapers that have the resources necessary to do good journalism, to benefit the public," Kirtley said. "But if they're being bled dry, if they don't have the resources, or if there's a situation where you have people who don't seem to have commitment to those kinds of journalistic values, I think it's harmful to the public interest."

Gershkovich, by all accounts, has those journalistic values. And he was serving the public interest by reporting from Russia until he was bum-rushed into detention last year on allegations of espionage that the journalist, the Journal, and the U.S. government vehemently deny. Indeed, the State Department has designated Gershkovich as officially "wrongfully detained," and the Wall Street Journal said on Monday that news of judicial proceeding to begin next week in secret, "means a sham trial is imminent."

The Journal's reporter "is essentially a hostage caught up in a geopolitical struggle that doesn't have very much to do with him," said Clayton Weimers, the executive director of Reporters Without Borders USA, the American arm of the global media freedom organization. "There is no free press left in Russia; all of the free press has been forced into exile or self-censorship. And the next step that seems to be occurring here is going after international media, arresting foreign journalists."

Gershkovich's colleagues have kept his case front and center — literally on the Journal's website, where it's the first item readers see. "They have kept this story alive," said Weimers. "They have assigned members of their staff to work on this full time to secure his release. They have worked very closely with the family and with our side as well, to make sure other outlets are also covering this story."

Covering the Kremlin is important. Imperative, even, given the geopolitical stakes of Russia's reckless revanchism. And because Moscow has muted nearly every independent Russian voice, having Western ones like Gershkovich's is essential in understanding what's happening not just in Russia, but in and to Ukraine as well.

"They're doing the work that is protected by the First Amendment and is central to preserving our democracy and if they're — especially if they're — U.S. citizens, our government should do for them what they would do for any other U.S. citizen," Kirtley said.

Journalists, said Weimers, "go to these places to tell the stories that we need to hear in order to understand the world. And as soon as you start saying, 'Well, it's a little too dangerous for a journalist to go there,' that's when those places go even darker, more remote, harder to understand and more dangerous for everybody. Journalists cover wars, they cover violence, demonstrations — they're frequently putting themselves in harm's way for the benefit of the general public so that the rest of us can understand what is happening in the world.

"We cannot be citizens of a democracy actively participating if we don't have reporting on the ground that is telling us what is happening."

Often that requires shining a light on Moscow and other foreign outposts, as well as on the Washington Post and other institutions. Because darkness does indeed imperil democracy.