The Washington Post has sparked a major outcry among its own employees over the paper's decision to suspend its political reporter over tweets she made following the tragic death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant.
Post reporter Felicia Sonmez was slammed on social media for sharing a 2016 story about 2003 rape allegations from The Daily Beast headlined, “Kobe Bryant’s Disturbing Rape Case: The DNA Evidence, the Accuser’s Story, and the Half-Confession,” as details of the helicopter crash were still trickling out.
Sonmez doubled down with numerous follow-up tweets when her initial message was hit with an onslaught of backlash, writing that the response was “eye-opening” and claiming she received abuse and death threats.
“Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality… even if that public figured is beloved and that totality unsettling,” Sonmez wrote. “That folks are responding with rage & threats toward me… speaks volumes about the pressure people come under to stay silent in these cases.”
Sonmez eventually deleted the tweets but her employer wasn’t pleased and placed her on administrative leave pending a review.
“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,“ Washington Post managing editor Tracy Grant told Fox News.
The Post's harsh punishment of its reporter is now itself facing backlash from inside the paper.
Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple knocked his employer's "misguided" suspension of Sonmez for sharing a "very good story" from The Daily Beast about the misconduct claims against Bryant.
Wemple revealed from his own interview with Sonmez that the Post condemned her for the tweets because "they didn't 'pertain'" to her "coverage area" and that "your behavior on social media is making it harder for others to do their work as Washington Post journalists.”
"A couple of thoughts about those objections: One, if journalists at The Post are prone to suspension for tweeting stories off their beats, the entire newsroom should be on administrative leave," Wemple reacted. "Two, the contention that sharing a link to a news article complicates the work of others requires supporting evidence."
Wemple then laid out his paper's social media policy for its employees, determining that Sonmez's tweet "would appear to invite a pat on the back from management" based on the guidelines.
The media critic concluded his piece by quoting former Post owner Eugene Meyer, who said, “The newspaper shall tell ALL the truth so far as it can learn it, concerning the important affairs of America and the world.”
However, the paper's own guild also condemned the decision in an open letter to the managing editor as well as executive editor Marty Baron.
"We understand the hours after Bryant’s death Sunday were a fraught time to share reporting about past accusations of sexual assault," The Washington Post Guild wrote. "But we believe it is our responsibility as a news organization to tell the public the whole truth as we know it -- about figures and institutions both popular and unpopular, at moments timely and untimely."
The Guild then mentioned the paper "sought to control" Sonmez when she came forward in 2018 with a sexual assault claim against former Los Angeles Times bureau chief Jonathan Kaiman.
"The Post’s handling of this issue shows utter disregard for best practices in supporting survivors of sexual violence — including the practices we use in our own journalism," the Guild continued. "Assault survivors inside and outside this newsroom deserve treatment that is fair and transparent; that does not blame victims or compromise the safety of survivors."
The Post employees then blasted the paper's "arbitrary and over-broad social media policy" that has some colleagues "share contentious opinions on social media platforms without sanction" but only Sonmez is "being censured for making a statement of fact."
"The Post has failed to offer a clear explanation of why she was placed on leave — to Felicia or to 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 letter concluded.
Fox News' Brian Flood contributed to this report.