The Washington Post placed a political reporter on administrative leave over tweets she sent as news of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death were still unfolding.
The paper said the tweets "displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues."
Post reporter Felicia Sonmez shared 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.
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, whose team he coached, both died in the helicopter crash in California on Sunday. Investigators said as many as nine people died in the crash.
Bryant was a global icon and considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He was accused of rape in 2003 and prosecutors dropped the case when the accuser decided not to testify, according to the Los Angeles Times. A civil suit was settled out of court.
Sonmez graduated from Harvard University and now covers the White House, Congress and the campaign trail, according to her Post bio. Sonmez was widely condemned for the tweets, but the Post reporter also received support when her suspension was announced. Many high-profile media members declared that she should not have been suspended
Journalist Matthews Keys reported that Sonmez was suspended specifically because she included screenshots of her email inbox when defending her initial tweet about Bryant, as opposed to being punished for sharing the Daily Beast story.
“There’s a concern that the screenshot (of her email inbox) might create some legal issues and could violate Twitter’s terms (of service)," Keys wrote, citing an anonymous Post employee.
The Post did not immediately respond when asked if the screenshot of emails was a factor.