The Washington Post has lifted its suspension of its reporter after her tweets about NBA legend Kobe Bryant sparked an uproar and the paper's handling of her punishment also received backlash.
Washington Post managing editor Tracy Grant issued a statement on Tuesday addressing the controversy surrounding political reporter Felicia Sonmez, who critics slammed for sharing a report about the sexual assault allegation against Bryant as the news of his tragic death was still breaking on Sunday.
"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 said. "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."
The Post confirmed to Fox News that Sonmez was "no longer on administrative leave."
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,“ Grant told Fox News at the time.
The Post's harsh punishment of its reporter then faced its own 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."
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 Post employees 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.