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Washington Post Under Fire From Its Own Union, Media Critic for Suspending Reporter Over Kobe Tweets

Kobe Bryant
Chelsea Lauren/WWD

The Washington Post is under fire from its own guild and media critic for putting one of its reporters on administrative leave for a series of tweets put out in the wake of Kobe Bryant’s death.

As news of Bryant’s passing spread on Sunday, political reporter Felicia Sonmez had tweeted a 2016 article from the Daily Beast about a former sexual assault accusation made against the NBA star, followed by a description of the subsequent harassment she’d faced because of that post and a defense of her decision to share the story.

“Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality, even if that public figure is beloved and that totality unsettling,” she wrote in posts that have since been deleted but shared as screenshots in Washington Post coverage.

Fearing for her safety in the wake of threats that publicized her home address, Sonmez checked into a hotel that evening. But rather than defend their reporter in the face of such attacks, The Post decided to suspend her from her job for what managing editor Tracy Grant said was “poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.”

The Washington Post Guild issued a statement Monday signed by more than 150 reporters slamming the decision. The paper has “failed to offer a clear explanation of why she was placed on leave — to Felicia or to anyone else,” it read, adding: “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.”

The move “shows utter disregard for best practices in supporting survivors of sexual violence” and revealed serious flaws in the paper’s “arbitrary and over-broad” social media policy, it said. It also noted that this is not the first time the paper 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. 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,” it read. “Instead, management issued a warning letter against Felicia for violating The Post’s vague and inconsistently enforced social media guidelines.”

The suspension was “misguided,” the paper’s media critic Erik Wemple wrote in an op-ed. By his own read of the Post’s social media policy, her tweet would if anything “appear to invite a pat on the back from management.”

He interviewed Sonmez as saying: “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. We are more able to do our jobs because we’ve demonstrated to those survivors that we’re worthy of their trust.”

She continued: “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.”

A spokesperson for The Post declined Monday to elaborate further on the reasoning behind its decision to suspend Sonmez, and has not yet responded to Variety’s request for comment Tuesday about the Guild statement.