POLITICS

Washington Post Reporter Suspended For Kobe Bryant Tweets Speaks Out

The newspaper lifted Felicia Sonmez's suspension after a widespread outcry that included many newsroom colleagues.

The Washington Post reporter who was suspended after tweeting a story about the 2003 rape allegation against basketball star Kobe Bryant on the day he died called on the newspaper’s executive editor to speak directly about the decision to punish her and explain how the paper planned to protect employees’ safety going forward.

Felicia Sonmez, who was placed on administrative leave for the tweet and reprimanded for “hurting” the Post as an institution, said in a statement Tuesday that she wanted answers after the newspaper lifted her suspension following a media outcry. Sonmez initially said about 10,000 people had commented or emailed her “abuse and death threats” after she shared a link to a story without comment about the 2003 allegations against Bryant. Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter were among nine people killed Sunday in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. 

When she reported the abuse to her editors, including Executive Editor Martin Baron and Managing Editor Tracy Grant, she was told to take the tweets down before being placed on paid leave.

“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,” Sonmez said. “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.’”

She added that Baron’s emails to her had only “sown confusion about the depth of management’s commitment to this goal.”

Grant released a statement on Tuesday noting the suspension had been lifted, but she stood by her characterization that the tweets were “ill-timed” even if they weren’t in direct violation of the Post’s social media policy. She did not offer an apology and, alongside other top editors, said the episode had raised the notion that the Post’s social media guidelines “are in need of an update.”

“We consistently urge restraint, which is particularly important when there are tragic deaths,” Grant wrote. “We regret having spoken publicly about a personnel matter.”

The statement didn’t appear to appease those in the Post’s newsroom, many of whom initially stood by Sonmez during her suspension (including the newspaper’s own media reporter). The Washington Post Newspaper Guild, which represents about 1,000 employees, said Tuesday it was “disappointed” that Grant didn’t offer an apology, noting it remained “concerned that The Post did not take swift action to provide her with protection and support.”

Sonmez concluded her request of Baron on Tuesday by urging newsroom leaders to safeguard reporters’ ability to share information.

“I hope Washington Post newsroom leaders will not only prioritize their employees’ safety in the face of threats of physical harm,” she wrote, “but also ensure that no journalist will be punished for speaking the truth.”