January 28, 2020
The Washington Post came under fire Monday for its decision to suspend a reporter a day after she tweeted about the rape case against Kobe Bryant, only hours after the former basketball star and his daughter died with seven others in a helicopter crash.
On Sunday afternoon, as the world was learning the news and initial details of Bryant’s death, the Post’s Felicia Sonmez tweeted a link to a Daily Beast story titled, “Kobe Bryant’s Disturbing Rape Case: The DNA Evidence, the Accuser’s Story, and the Half-Confession”.
Shortly afterward, she tweeted that she had received “abuse and death threats” from “10,000 people, literally”. She added that “any public figure is worth remembering in their totality”. Her tweets were later deleted.
According to the New York Times, Post executive editor Martin Baron emailed Sonmez shortly after her tweets and said, in part, “A real lack of judgment to tweet this. Please stop. You’re hurting this institution by doing this.”
In a statement on Monday, Post managing editor Tracy Grant said Sonmez’s tweets “displayed poor judgement that undermined the work of her colleagues,” and cited a violation of the Post newsroom’s social media policy.
Bryant was accused of and charged with sexual assault in 2003, but the charge was dropped after the accuser refused to testify. He later settled a civil suit with the accuser.
After news of Sonmez’s suspension broke, numerous outlets criticized the decision by the Post. That included fellow Post employees.
Post media critic Erik Wemple called the suspension “misguided”.
New York magazine Washington correspondent Olivia Nuzzi tweeted, “News organisations should protect their journalists, not acquiesce to the mob when it comes for them. The Washington Post not only failed Felicia Sonmez, but set a dangerous precedent.”
The Washington Post Guild also defended Sonmez in a lengthy statement, in part stating: “Felicia received an onslaught of violent messages, including threats that contained her home address, in the wake of a tweet Sunday regarding Kobe Bryant. Instead of protecting and supporting a reporter in the face of abuse, The Post placed her on administrative leave while newsroom leaders review whether she violated the social media policy.
“Felicia had to leave her home out of fear for her safety and has gotten insufficient guidance from the Post on how to protect herself.”