- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Washington Post was hit with a First Amendment backlash Tuesday for suspending a reporter who tweeted an article about the 2003 sexual-assault allegation against Kobe Bryant after he was killed Sunday in a helicopter crash.

In a Monday night letter to top editors, the Washington Post Newspaper Guild accused management of censuring political reporter Felicia Sonmez “for making a statement of fact” in violation of “The Post’s vague and inconsistently enforced social media guidelines.”

“We understand the hours after Bryant’s death were a fraught time to share reporting about past accusations of sexual assault,” said the guild letter. “The loss of such a beloved figure, and of so many other lives, is a tragedy. But we believe it is our responsibility as a news organization to tell the public the whole truth as we know it — about figures and institutions both popular and unpopular, at moments timely and untimely.”

The Poynter Institute chimed in Tuesday by declaring that the Post “has a mess on its hands” for suspending Ms. Sonmez, who shared a link Sunday to a 2016 Daily Beast story about the rape charge dropped by prosecutors at the accuser’s request a week before the trial in Eagle, Colorado.

Mr. Bryant, then 24, said the sexual encounter was consensual and later settled a civil suit on undisclosed terms with his 19-year-old accuser.

“Was the timing of the tweets inappropriate? Perhaps. Were they tacky? Maybe. Were they worth a suspension? That feels like a stretch,” said Poynter.

Advocates against sexual violence also weighed in. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network said it was “deeply concerned” about the decision to place Ms. Sonmez on administrative leave and called for the newspaper to “reinstate her immediately.”

“While we don’t diminish Bryant’s professional accomplishments, it is disrespectful to survivors — and history — to pretend that the sexual assault allegation never happened,” said RAINN in a statement. “Punishing a journalist for focusing public attention on a legitimate news story is a dangerous precedent and unworthy of The Washington Post.” 




Ms. Sonmez tweeted that she was hit with 10,000 outraged responses, including emails with “abuse and death threats,” and posted a screenshot of one of the emails with the name of the sender, prompting the rebuke from managing editor Tracy Grant.

Ms. Grant said the Post would review “whether tweets about the death of Kobe Bryant violated The Post newsroom’s social media policy.” She also told Ms. Sonmez that the tweets didn’t “pertain” to her “coverage area,” and “your behavior on social media is making it hard for others to do their work as Washington Post journalists,” according to the Post’s Erik Wemple.

The Washington Times has reached out to the Post for comment.

More than 200 Post staffers signed the guild letter, while other journalists on Twitter came to Ms. Sonmez’s defense, including Yashar Ali, who called the suspension “absolutely outrageous.”

Ms. Sonmez “herself is a survivor of assault who bravely came forward with her story two years ago,” said the guild, which called on the Post to provide her with security detail after she stayed overnight at a hotel over safety concerns.

In addition, the company “should issue a statement condemning abuse of its reporters, allow Felicia to return to work, rescind whatever sanctions have been imposed and provide her with any resources she may request as she navigates this traumatic experience,” said the guild.

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