Guild rips Washington Post over reporter placed on leave for Bryant tweet

The union representing editorial staff at The Washington Post is ripping the company’s management over its decision to put Post reporter Felicia Sonmez on administrative leave over a tweet she sent Sunday linking to a 2016 story about the Kobe Bryant rape case.

The Post Guild also urged the Post to provide a security detail for Sonmez, who has been the target of death threats over the tweet. 

“We write to share our alarm and dismay that our newsroom leaders have chosen to place Felicia Sonmez on leave over a social media post, and to urge The Post to take immediate steps to ensure the safety of our colleague,” the Post Guild wrote in a statement addressed to Post editor Marty Baron and managing editor Tracy Grant.

“We urge The Post to immediately provide Felicia with a security detail and take whatever other steps are necessary to ensure her safety, as it has done in the past when other reporters were subject to threats,” the Guild wrote in its Monday statement.

“The company should issue a statement condemning abuse of its reporters, allow Felicia to return to work, rescind whatever sanctions have been imposed and provide her with any resources she may request as she navigates this traumatic experience.”  

The Post in a statement said it has put Sonmez on administration leave after a series of tweets on Sunday. 

In an initial tweet, Sonmez included a link to a 2016 Daily Beast story, which she did not write, about the 2003 charges faced by Bryant. The NBA star was killed on Sunday in a helicopter crash. 

The tweet quickly sparked tens of thousands of angry replies accusing Sonmez of insensitivity. Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, was also killed in the helicopter crash.  

Sonmez then issued several tweets decrying those making threats against her. 

The Post said Sonmez had violated its social media policies, though its statement did not indicate precisely which policies had been violated.

“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 Post’s managing editor, Tracy Grant, said in a statement. “The tweets displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.”

The Post Guild ripped the logic behind Sonmez being placed on leave, arguing other reporters and management of the Post had shared contentious opinions without sanction. 

“But here a valued colleague is being censured for making a statement of fact,” it said. “Felicia did nothing more than what The Post’s own news stories have done when she shared an article about the past allegation against Bryant.”

“Even now, after numerous conflicting reports have been published about Felicia’s situation, 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,” it said.

Somnez says she was a victim of sexually assault in 2018, which the Guild cited in slamming the paper for not supporting its reporter.

“This is not the first time that The Post has sought to control how Felicia speaks on matters of sexual violence. Felicia herself is a survivor of assault who bravely came forward with her story two years ago,” the statement says. “When articles attacking her were published in other outlets, The Post did not release a statement in support of one of its respected political reporters. Instead, management issued a warning letter against Felicia for violating The Post’s vague and inconsistently enforced social media guidelines.

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,” it adds.

Sonmez also told Post media critic Erik Wemple in a Monday interview that not writing about the issue of sexual assault when it is part of a public figure’s record has the effect of silencing survivors.

“I would argue that not ignoring a matter of public record is the way to go and making survivors feel seen and heard helps Washington Post journalists rather than making our jobs harder,” she told Wemple. “We are more able to do our jobs because we’ve demonstrated to those survivors that we’re worthy of their trust. I’m a little confused. If The Post is arguing that letting those survivors feel seen makes other colleagues jobs harder, I’d appreciate an explanation.”

Bryant was charged with felony sexual assault in 2003 after a 19-year-old woman working in a Colorado hotel accused him of rape. Prosecutors ended up dropping the case after Bryant’s accuser declined to testify. She later brought a civil lawsuit against Bryant that was settled out of court.

Bryant said the two had sex but that it was consensual. He later said the woman did not view the incident as consensual and offered an apology.

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