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WaPo ripped by union over suspension of reporter who tweeted Kobe Bryant rape allegation story following his death


"A valued colleague is being censured for making a statement of fact."

(FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

The Washington Post Newspaper Guild — the union representing the Washington Post's employees — issued a statement Monday condemning the newspaper for suspending one of its reporters after she tweeted out an article about a 2003 rape allegation against NBA superstar Kobe Bryant hours after his death on Sunday.

What are the details?

Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were killed in a helicopter crash Sunday morning, along with seven other victims. Within hours, Post national politics reporter Felicia Sonmez tweeted out a link to a 2016 piece from the Daily Beast titled, "Kobe Bryant's disturbing rape case: The DNA evidence, the accuser's story, and the half-confession."

Sonmez received a barrage of messages criticizing her for sharing the article as Bryant's family and his fans mourned. In one of several follow-up tweets, the reporter wrote, "Well, THAT was eye-opening To the 10,000 people (literally) who have commented and emailed me with abuse and death threats, please take a moment and read the story — which was written 3+ years ago, and not by me.

"Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality, even if that public figure is beloved and that totality unsettling. That folks are responding with rage & threats toward me (someone who didn't even write the piece but found it well-reported) speaks volumes about the pressure people come under to stay silent in these cases."

Sonmez later deleted all of the tweets regarding Bryant and the backlash and was suspended by the Post, which told the Daily Mail in a statement: "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. The tweets displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues."

In response, the Washington Post Newspaper Guild issued a statement slamming the paper for suspending Sonmez, expressing its "alarm and dismay" at the reporter's punishment and urging the outlet to "take immediate steps to ensure the safety of our colleague."

"We understand the hours after Bryant's death Sunday were a fraught time to share reporting about past accusations of sexual assault," the Guild wrote. "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 union continued, "This is not the first time that The Post 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. Instead, management issued a warning letter against Felicia for violating The Post's vague and inconsistently enforced social media guidelines."

Anything else?

The Post was also slammed for suspending Sonmez by its own media critic. Erik Wemple wrote in his column Monday that Sonmez received an email from management telling her, in part, "Your behavior on social media is making it harder for others to do their work as Washington Post journalists."

Sonmez told Wemple in response, "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."

One last thing…
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