The Washington Post placed a political reporter on suspension after she sent out tweets that linked to a news story about sexual assault allegations against Kobe Bryant in the hours after news broke that he was killed in a helicopter crash.
The reporter, Felicia Sonmez, faced a backlash on Twitter soon after she sent out the tweet (see it below). Afterward, she tweeted that she had experienced a pushback that included “rage and threats toward me.” She later took the Bryant tweets down.
In a statement, Post managing editor Tracy Grant said, “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. The tweets displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.“
Sonmez’s initial tweet linked to a Daily Beast story from 2016, which recounted a 2003 allegation in Colorado that never made it to trial after a felony sexual assault charge was dropped. Bryant issued an apology to his accuser but said that he believed the encounter was consensual. He also reached a settlement with her for an undisclosed amount in 2005.
The group UltraViolet objected to Sonmez’s suspension. Shaunna Thomas, its co-founder and executive director, said in a statement that the Post‘s actions “are an unacceptable attempt to censure the truth. Plain and simple.”
She added: “While we join the country in mourning the loss of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, it is fair that many survivors have complicated feelings about Bryant stemming from a 2003 allegation of sexual abuse against him. Public figures are worth remembering in their totality — even if that totality is uncomfortable. Major national newspapers like The Washington Post should know that.”
The Washington Post Guild also called on Sonmez to be reinstated. “The Post has failed to offer a clear explanation of why she was placed on leave — to Felicia or anyone else. We are concerned by The Post‘s unwillingness to be transparent about this issue, and alarmed by the implication that reporters will be penalized for talking about any topic not on their beat.”
The guild also noted that Sonmez “herself is a survivor of assault who bravely came forward with her story two years ago. When articles attacking her were published in other outlets, The Post did not release a statement in support of one of its respected political reporters. Instead, management issued a warning letter against Felicia for violating The Post’s vague and inconsistently enforced social media guidelines.”
The guild’s letter was signed by dozens of reporters at the paper.
Sonmez accused Jonathan Kaiman, the Beijing bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, of sexual misconduct, and he later resigned.
The Post‘s media critic, Eric Wemple, also criticized the decision to suspend Sonmez. He spoke to the reporter, and she told him that one of the reasons for her suspension was that she tweeted on a topic outside her coverage area.