Jan 28, 2020

Updated: Washington Post suspends reporter over Kobe Bryant tweets

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.

Go deeper: Journalists keep getting in trouble for tweeting

Go deeper

Virginia governor announces removal of Richmond's Robert E. Lee statue

Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Thursday that the state will remove the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Richmond's historic Monument Avenue.

Why it matters: It's a watershed moment for Virginia, which has been at the center of a years-long national debate about whether Confederate monuments should be displayed publicly. That discussion reached a boiling point when protests about a statue of Lee in Charlottesville turned violent in 2017.

RNC expands convention search across the Sun Belt

Donald Trump, Mike Pence and their families on the last night of the Republican National Convention in Ohio in 2016. Photo: David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images.

The Republican National Committee is planning site visits over the next 10 days to more than a half-dozen cities — across the South and into Texas and Arizona — as it scrambles for a new convention host, people familiar with the internal discussions tell Axios.

Driving the news: The RNC's executive committee voted Wednesday night to allow most of the convention to move — with only a smaller, official portion remaining in Charlotte — after North Carolina's governor said the coronavirus pandemic would mean a scaled-back event with social distancing and face coverings.

Oil faces tough road back from coronavirus

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Oil companies in the battered shale patch are starting to bring back some production as prices climb, but a new report underscores how the pandemic is taking a heavy financial toll despite signs of revival.

Driving the news: Fourteen North American producers have filed for bankruptcy thus far during the second quarter, per a tally from the law firm Haynes and Boone, which closely tracks the sector's finances.