On Sunday, as many on social media were expressing shock and grief over Bryant’s death, Sonmez tweeted out a link to a 2016 Daily Beast story about sexual assault allegations that were made against Bryant in 2003. Sonmez then tweeted about some of the social media backlash she faced for posting the story, including threats. The Post then suspended Sonmez as it conducted an investigation of whether she had violated the company’s social media policy.
But Sonmez’s suspension triggered a protest from the paper’s union, the Post Guild, as well as newsroom employees. Columnist Eric Wemple even wrote about his puzzlement at the Post’s action.
On Tuesday, Post managing editor Tracy Grant said in a statement that “after conducting an internal review, we have determined that, while we consider Felicia’s tweets ill-timed, she was not in clear and direct violation of our social media policy.”
Grant added, “Reporters on social media represent The Washington Post, and our policy states ‘we must be ever mindful of preserving the reputation of The Washington Post for journalistic excellence, fairness and independence.’ We consistently urge restraint, which is particularly important when there are tragic deaths. We regret having spoken publicly about a personnel matter.”
Sonmez issued a statement, saying, “I believe that Washington Post readers and employees, including myself, deserve to hear directly from Marty Baron on the newspaper’s handling of this matter.” Baron is executive editor of the Post.
She added, “Washington Post journalists endeavor to live up to the paper’s mission statement, which states, ‘The newspaper shall tell ALL the truth so far as it can learn it, concerning the important affairs of America and the world.’ My suspension, and Mr. Baron’s Jan. 26 email warning me that my tweets about a matter of public record were ‘hurting this institution, have unfortunately sown confusion about the depth of management’s commitment to this goal.”
She said that she hopes “Washington Post newsroom leaders will not only prioritize their employees’ safety in the face of threats of physical harm but also ensure that no journalist will be punished for speaking the truth.”
The felony sexual assault charge against Bryant, stemming from an incident in Colorado, was eventually 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.