Kobe Bryant: Washington Post reporter suspended after tweets

Mourners pay tribute to Kobe Bryant in the Philippines Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption There has been a global outpouring of grief for Kobe Bryant

Washington Post employees have condemned the paper after it suspended a journalist for tweets about the late US basketball legend Kobe Bryant.

Felicia Sonmez posted a link to a 2016 article about historical sexual assault allegations against Bryant in the wake of his death in a helicopter crash.

She received death threats, and has since deleted the post.

But the paper then placed her on administrative leave – prompting a condemnatory letter from colleagues.

“Instead of protecting and supporting a reporter in the face of abuse, The Post placed her on administrative leave,” the Washington Post Guild letter to the editors reads.

It describes the paper’s social media guidelines as “vague and inconsistently enforced”, and says the newspaper has not clearly explained why she was suspended.

Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among the nine people who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday, sparking an outpouring of grief around the world.

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Media captionSite where basketball legend Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash

The player was considered one of the greatest in the history of basketball, winning five NBA championships and two Olympic Gold medals during his 20-year career.

In 2003, in his early days as a player, Bryant was accused of sexual assault by a 19-year-old woman. The case was dropped after she refused to testify in court. She had received death threats after a clerical error saw her name published online.

Bryant repeatedly denied the allegations but later apologised and settled an ensuing civil case out of court.

Why was the journalist suspended?

In the wake of Bryant’s death, Sonmez tweeted a 2016 Daily Beast story about the rape allegations against the basketball player. The article includes police interviews with the accuser and with Bryant from 2003.

Sonmez did not write the piece, and posted it on her Twitter feed without comment.

She was swiftly criticised for the timing and content of her tweet. In her response Sonmez called the attacks “eye-opening” but defended her decision to post the link saying the way her post was received “speaks volumes about the pressure people come under to stay silent in these cases”.

Sonmez herself came forward in 2018 with allegations about sexual misconduct by Jonathan Kaiman, then a Los Angeles Times journalist. He later resigned, although he says the pair had consensual sex and their perceptions of what happened differ.

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption Ms Sonmez later deleted the tweets at the request of her editors

On Monday she also tweeted an image of her email inbox showing her attackers, which included the names and email addresses of the senders.

The journalist contacted her editors to tell them she was being threatened. Washington Post managing editor Tracy Grant then told her to delete the tweets, and sent her an email suggesting she “consider a hotel or a friend’s place for this evening”, the New York Times reports.

She was later told she had been suspended with pay.

A statement by Grant later said Sonmez had “displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues”, and that she was on paid leave until the paper could determine if the posts broke their social media policy.

What was the reaction?

Colleagues swiftly condemned the suspension.

“What did Sonmez do to deserve this brushback? She tweeted out a very good story from the Daily Beast,” wrote the Washington Post’s media critic Erik Wemple.

The Washington Post Guild said the paper should have shown more support for a woman who had come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct.

“Assault survivors inside and outside this newsroom deserve treatment that is fair and transparent; that does not blame victims or compromise the safety of survivors,” their letter reads.

The Washington Post has so far not commented on the letter or given further information about the suspension.


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