New Delhi: The Washington Post Guild Tuesday came out in support of political reporter Felicia Sonmez, who was placed on administrative leave after she shared on Twitter an old report on the rape allegations against American basketball legend Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash Sunday.
In a statement addressed to The Washington Post’s managing editor Tracy Grant and executive editor Marty Baron, the editorial union said, “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.”
Hours after the basketball star’s death, Sonmez had posted a tweet linking to a 2016 article by the Daily Beast, which detailed the sexual assault allegation made against Bryant in 2003. She also, reportedly, posted, “Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality.”
Sonmez claimed to have received intense criticism and also death threats after her tweets. She posted screenshots of her inbox with the threats but deleted all her tweets later. According to a CNN report, Sonmez deleted the tweets because she was instructed by Grant to do so.
Just before Sonmez was sent on the ‘administrative leave’, she reportedly received an email from Baron, who said, “A real lack of judgment to tweet this. Please stop. You’re hurting this institution by doing this.”
Shortly after the email, Grant released a statement Monday saying Sonmez was being put on administrative leave while The Post reviews whether her tweets violated the company’s social media policy.
The Guild’s statement
The Washington Post Guild’s statement, which has been signed by more than 100 employees, 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.”
It called out the management’s arbitrary social media policy and said that it had fundamental flaws. Furthermore, it pointed out that no concrete reason was given for Sonmez’s suspension.
The Guild noted that this was not the first time that the management “sought to control” how Sonmez spoke 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 said.
“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,” the statement added.
In 2003, a 19-year-old woman accused late basketball champion Kobe Bryant of sexual assault. The case was, however, dropped as the complainant refused to testify and it was settled out of court. Bryant issued an apology to his accuser and acknowledged that even though he viewed the encounter as consensual, his accuser did not.