Jan 28, 2020 - Economy & Business

Updated: Washington Post suspends reporter over Kobe Bryant tweets

A memorial to NBA basketballer Kobe Bryant
Flowers and tributes are left at a makeshift memorial for former NBA player Kobe Bryant outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Photo: Rachel Luna/Getty Images

The Washington Post faced blowback Monday for suspending a reporter after she tweeted a story without comment the previous day about Kobe Bryant's 2003 rape allegation as others posted tributes to the basketball star following his death.

What's new: The Post expressed regret at speaking "publicly about a personnel matter" on Tuesday and said that the reporter, Felicia Sonmez, "was not in clear and direct violation" of the newspaper's social media policy. Sonmez has been reinstated, according to the Washington Post Guild.

Why it matters: Critics argue that WashPost made the wrong call to suspend Sonmez — including over 200 Post journalists, who expressed their "alarm and dismay" at the action in a letter Monday via the Washington Post Guild supporting the reporter.

Details: Sonmez posted a link on Twitter Sunday to a 2016 Daily Beast report of an allegation of sexual assault leveled against Bryant in 2003.

  • WashPost executive editor Martin Baron sent an email to Sonmez at 5:38 p.m. before she was told that she'd be placed on administrative leave, saying "Felicia, A real lack of judgment to tweet this. Please stop. You’re hurting this institution by doing this," per the New York Times, which saw the email.
  • After the email, she posted two tweets documenting backlash she'd received for the Twitter post, including one stating: "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."
  • Per the NYT, Sonmez deleted all tweets on the matter on WashPost managing editor Tracy Grant's instruction. Grant thanked her for doing so before suggesting she "consider a hotel or a friend’s place for this evening."
  • Other Twitter users saved screenshots of her posts.

What they're saying: Grant confirmed in a statement to the Erik Wemple Blog, the paper's media criticism column, that Sonmez was placed on leave, pending a review into whether her tweets violated the newsroom's social media policy. Axios first contacted WashPost for comment after Sonmez was initially suspended.

  • "The tweets displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues," Grant added.
  • Wemple called the suspension "misguided."

The big picture: In the social media era, newsrooms have struggled to find a balance between enforcing uniform rules for their journalists to adhere to on social media and letting their journalists speak as individuals, and several have issued guidelines for journalists on the issue.

Our thought bubble: Regardless of whether you agree with the Post's actions, it's evident that something went wrong with how the Post handled the situation because the news organization itself has now become the story.

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