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Washington Post suspends reporter for Kobe Bryant tweet

Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez on Sunday posted a link on Twitter to a 2016 Daily Beast article that detailed an allegation of sexual assault made against Bryant in 2003.


THE Washington Post suspended one of its reporters, Felicia Sonmez, after she posted tweets on Sunday about Kobe Bryant in the hours after his death. More than 100 Post journalists criticised the paper's decision on Monday.

Ms Sonmez on Sunday posted a link on Twitter to a 2016 Daily Beast article that detailed an allegation of sexual assault made against Bryant in 2003. Her tweet appeared amid a flood of public tributes to the retired Los Angeles Lakers star, who died earlier that day in a helicopter crash at age 41.

Ms Sonmez received an e-mail from The Post's executive editor, Martin Baron, at 5.38 pm, before she was told that she would be placed on leave. The reporter shared the three-sentence e-mail with The New York Times.

"Felicia," Mr Baron wrote. "A real lack of judgment to tweet this. Please stop. You're hurting this institution by doing this."

The text of Mr Baron's e-mail was attached to a screen shot of Ms Sonmez's tweet linking to the Daily Beast article.

A spokeswoman for The Post and Mr Baron did not reply to requests for comment on the e-mail.

Bryant was arrested in 2003 after a complaint by a hotel employee in Colorado. A charge of felony sexual assault was dropped in 2005, and Bryant settled with his accuser out of court, saying in a statement that he believed the encounter with the woman was "consensual" although he had come to understand that she did not see it the same way.

Ms Sonmez's tweet drew a swift backlash from other Twitter users. She followed it with a post about the negative responses she had received.

"Well, THAT was eye-opening," she wrote. "To the 10,000 people (literally) who have commented and e-mailed me with abuse and death threats, please take a moment and read the story - which was written (more than three) years ago, and not by me."

Ms Sonmez also posted what appeared to be a screenshot of an e-mail she had received that used offensive language, called her a lewd name and displayed the sender's full name.

She deleted the three tweets after being told to do so by Tracy Grant, the newspaper's managing editor, but not before other journalists captured them in screen shots.

The Post confirmed the paid suspension on Monday, but did not specify which of the tweets had prompted it to take action.

"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," Ms Grant said in a statement. "The tweets displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues."

After Ms Sonmez deleted the tweets on Sunday, she received an e-mail from Ms Grant acknowledging the threats she had received.

"Thank you for deleting the tweets," Ms Grant wrote to her in an e-mail that Ms Sonmez shared with NYT. "You might want to consider a hotel or a friend's place for this evening."

The reaction among Ms Sonmez's colleagues started to emerge on Monday with a post on Erik Wemple Blog, The Post's media criticism column, and in a letter that was organised by the NewsGuild, the union that represents Post journalists, and signed by more than 130 staff members, including the paper's most prominent reporters.

In his post, Mr Wemple called the suspension "misguided". The letter signed by Post journalists, which was addressed to Mr Baron and Ms Grant, criticised how the paper handled the matter.

"Felicia received an onslaught of violent messages, including threats that contained her home address, in the wake of a tweet Sunday regarding Kobe Bryant," the letter said.

"Instead of protecting and supporting a reporter in the face of abuse, The Post placed her on administrative leave while newsroom leaders review whether she violated the social media policy."

While acknowledging the tragedy of Bryant's death, the letter went on to note that "we believe it is our responsibility as a news organisation to tell the public the whole truth as we know it - about figures and institutions both popular and unpopular, at moments timely and untimely".

Ms Sonmez said in an interview that she did not add any commentary of her own to the tweet that included a link to the Daily Beast article.

"Because The Post does have policies governing these things, all I did was tweet out a link to the story," she said. "I didn't think it was my place to provide any further commentary."

When others on social media started sending her messages that called her rude names and made death threats and rape threats, she followed The Post's security protocol by contacting Mr Grant.

Mr Grant wrote back, telling her to delete the tweets on Bryant. By then, Ms Sonmez said, someone had posted her home address online.

Ms Sonmez said she was in The Post's newsroom at the time of her tweets.

"I expected to get some blowback," she said. "I can understand that it would be difficult for people to read that, but it's also difficult, I imagine, for all of the survivors in the country to see these allegations essentially be erased, which is how I felt in those couple of hours in the newsroom."

Ms Sonmez was one of two women who accused Jonathan Kaiman, a Beijing bureau chief of The Los Angeles Times, of sexual misconduct. After The Los Angeles Times conducted an investigation in 2018, Mr Kaiman resigned. NYTIMES