Shortly after Kobe Bryant died Sunday, Washington Post political reporter Felicia Sonmez tweeted a link to a 2016 Daily Beast story about the time Bryant was charged with raping a 19-year-old in Colorado. By Sunday night, the Post had suspended Sonmez and she had deleted her tweets about Bryant.
“National political reporter Felicia Sonmez was placed on administrative leave while The Post reviews whether tweets about the death of Kobe Bryant violated The Post newsroom’s social media policy,” managing editor Tracy Grant said in a statement. “The tweets displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.“
Sonmez’s first tweet was just a Daily Beast headline — “Kobe Bryant’s Disturbing Rape Case: The DNA Evidence, the Accuser’s Story, and the Half-Confession” — and a link to the story. After receiving heavy criticism, Sonmez followed up with at least three more tweets.
The first two read: “Well, THAT WAS eye-opening. To the 10,000 people (literally) who have commented and emailed me with abuse and death threats, please take a moment and read the story — which was written 3+ years ago, and not by me. Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality even if that public figure is beloved and that totality unsettling.
“That folks are responding with rage & threats toward me (someone who didn’t even write the piece but found it well-reported) speaks volumes about the pressure people come under to stay silent in these cases.”
She followed those with screenshots of her email inbox. Journalist Matthew Keys reported Monday that the email screenshot is actually what got Sonmez suspended. “Her managers don’t care about the Daily Beast tweet,” a Post source told Keys. “But there’s a concern that the screen shot might create some legal issues and could violate Twitter’s terms.”
Many news organizations have a policy that letters are public information by default; while that doesn’t appear in the Post’s letters policy, letter-writers are required to include their own full names.
The Post’s own statement pointed to “tweets” — Sonmez only tweeted one screenshot of her inbox — and specifically mentioned the death of Kobe Bryant, not the emails. When asked which tweets violated the Post’s social media policy, and which parts of the policy Sonmez violated, the Post declined to comment, and pointed to Grant’s statement.
Sonmez and another woman accused a reporter of sexual misconduct in 2018; the Los Angeles Times suspended him and he left after a lengthy investigation. While your mileage may vary on any of her tweets from Sunday, it’s hard to imagine how a policy could justify suspending her over them, especially when they contained only truths.
“Any public figure,” one of Sonmez’s tweets read, “is worth remembering in their totality.”
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