WaPo reinstates reporter suspended over Kobe Bryant tweets

WaPo reinstates reporter suspended over Kobe Bryant tweets

The Washington Post reinstated political reporter Felicia Sonmez on Tuesday after determining that her tweets regarding the Kobe Bryant rape case posted shortly after his death were "ill-timed" but "not in clear and direct violation" of the publication's social media policy.

The conclusion by Post managing editor Tracy Grant comes one day after the paper suspended Sonmez for the tweets. The reporter said the vitriolic reaction to the tweets was so intense – with emotions running high following the news that Bryant and his daughter, along with seven others, died in a helicopter crash outside of Los Angeles – that she received death threats on Twitter.

In a Monday statement, the Post said Sonmez was placed on administrative leave while it reviewed whether her tweets violated the Post’s social media policy.

“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,” Grant said in the Monday statement. “The tweets displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.”

On Tuesday, Grant said that after the 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."

"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,'" she wrote in a statement. "We consistently urge restraint, which is particularly important when there are tragic deaths. We regret having spoken publicly about a personnel matter."

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Sonmez in an initial tweet posted a link to a 2016 Daily Beast story headlined: “Kobe Bryant's Disturbing Rape Case: The DNA Evidence, the Accuser's Story, and the Half-Confession.”

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

In her later tweets, Sonmez noted the death threats she was receiving over the initial post, and in one tweet she included the full names of some people who sent her emails, according to a report from Matthew Keys at The Desk.

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.

The Los Angeles Lakers star said the two had sex but that it was consensual. He later acknowledged that the woman did not view the incident as consensual, and offered her an apology.

Sonmez tweeted on Sunday that she was met with death threats after her tweet, and called on people to remember deceased public figures in their entirety.

“Well, THAT was eye-opening. To the 10,000 people (literally) who have commented and emailed me with abuse and death threats, please take a moment and read the story — which was written 3+ years ago, and not by me. Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality, even if that public figure is beloved and that totality unsettling,” she wrote.

“That folks are responding with rage & threats toward me (someone who didn’t even write the piece but found it well-reported) speaks volumes about the pressure people come under to stay silent in these cases,” she added.

Sonmez's Twitter thread has since been deleted.

Sonmez 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," she continued. "If The Post is arguing that letting those survivors feel seen makes other colleagues jobs harder, I’d appreciate an explanation.”