WaPo editor Baron sends staff memo amid firestorm over reporter suspended for Kobe Bryant tweets

WaPo editor Baron sends staff memo amid firestorm over reporter suspended for Kobe Bryant tweets
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Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron wrote in an email to staff that it's "not always easy to know where to draw the line" regarding the social media conduct of reporters.

Baron's email, first obtained by CNN, comes three days after the paper suspended political reporter Felicia Sonmez for sending a tweet with a link to a 2016 story about the Kobe Bryant rape case just hours after reports of his death — along with eight others, including his teenage daughter — shocked the country on Sunday.

"It is not always easy to know where to draw the line. That's a matter deserving of thoughtful discussion – along with how The Post should respond when the line is crossed," Baron wrote. "How we navigate social media while safeguarding the reputation of The Post for truthful, honest, honorable and humane journalism deserves continued discussion."

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Earlier this week, Sonmez said the vitriolic reaction to her tweets was so intense that she received death threats on Twitter. Baron also noted in his email that the company "is prepared to offer security to anyone who has received threatening messages."

On Monday, the Post said Sonmez was placed on administrative leave while it reviewed whether her tweets violated the newsroom’s social media policy. She was reinstated on Wednesday after management determined her tweets about Bryant were "ill-timed" but "not in clear and direct violation" of the publication's social media policy.  

"We count on staffers to be attuned to how their social media activity will be perceived, bearing in mind that time, place and manner really matter," Baron wrote on Thursday.

Baron also wrote that the Post had "invested heavily in security" in recent years.

"The security department is available to provide immediate assistance," the editor assured.

In Sonmez's later tweets on Sunday, she 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.

Bryant 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 says she was a victim of sexual assault in 2018, which the paper's union, The Guild, cited in slamming the paper for not originally supporting its reporter earlier this week.