The Washington Post reporter suspended for retweeting a joke deemed sexist by a female colleague had been one of her staunchest supporters when she came under fire for a tweet she posted about Kobe Bryant hours after his death.
David Weigel, benched without pay for a month on Monday by the Jeff Bezos-owned broadsheet, defended his fellow political reporter Felicia Sonmez in early 2020 when she was suspended by the paper after posting a tweet linking to a 2016 story detailing rape allegations against the NBA superstar.
The tweet as the nation was mourning the Lakers legend, his daughter and seven others who died in the helicopter crash just outside Los Angeles on January 26, 2020, generated intense backlash against Sonmez.
Bryant supporters demanded the Washington Post fire her. She was also inundated with threatening messages.
Somnez didn’t back down.
“Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality… even if that public figured is beloved and that totality unsettling,” she tweeted.
“That folks are responding with rage & threats toward me… speaks volumes about the pressure people come under to stay silent in these cases.”
Sonmez later deleted her posts, but the newspaper placed her on administrative leave after determining that the tweets “displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.”
Journalists inside the Washington Post newsroom protested management’s decision to suspend Sonmez.
The Washington Post Guild circulated an open letter to then-executive editor Marty Baron demanding that Sonmez be reinstated. One of the signatories was Weigel.
“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.
“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 paper reversed its suspension of Sonmez and Weigel posted a celebratory tweet welcoming her back to the newsroom.
Somnez didn’t seem to have the same compassion for the 40-year-old Weigel after he deleted his retweet of a joke by YouTube podcast host Cam Harless.
“Every girl is bi. You just have to figure out if it’s polar or sexual,” read the tweet by Harless.
Sonmez was angered by Weigel’s retweet, writing: “Fantastic to work at a news outlet where retweets like this are allowed!”
Weigel later tweeted: “I just removed a retweet of an offensive joke. I apologize and did not mean to cause any harm.”
Washington Post COO Kris Coratti Kelly told the New York Post: “Editors have made clear to the staff that the tweet was reprehensible and demeaning language or actions like that will not be tolerated.”
But the drama kept escalating over the weekend when another male reporter at the paper, Jose Del Real, admonished Sonmez for going public with her complaints about Weigel’s retweet.
Del Real acknowledged that Weigel’s retweet was “terrible and unacceptable,” though he also criticized Sonmez for “rallying the internet to attack him for a mistake he made.”
Del Real, a features reporter who writes about American life and politics, said Sonmez’s tactic “doesn’t solve anything.”
He tweeted: “Felicia, we all mess up from time to time.”
“Engaging in repeated and targeted public harassment of a colleague is neither a good look nor is it particularly effective. It turns the language of inclusivity into clout chasing and bullying. I don’t think this is appropriate…There is such a thing as challenging with compassion.”
Del Real’s tweets enraged Sonmez, who accused him of “respond[ing] with even more vitriol.”
Sonmez then posted another tweet asking if Sally Buzbee, the newspaper’s executive editor, and another senior editor at the paper, Matea Gold, agreed with her.
“Objecting to sexism is not ‘clout chasing’,” Sonmez tweeted. “It’s not ‘harassment.’ And it’s certainly not ‘cruelty’.”
The exchange between Sonmez and Del Real prompted Buzbee to circulate a memo to staffers.
“We expect the staff to treat each other with respect and kindness both in the newsroom and online,” Buzbee wrote.
“We are a collegial and creative newsroom doing an astonishing amount of important and groundbreaking journalism. One of the great strengths of our newsroom is our collaborative spirit.”
Buzbee added: “The Washington Post is committed to an inclusive and respectful environment free of harassment, discrimination or bias of any sort.”
“When issues arise, please raise them with leadership or human resources and we will address them promptly and firmly.”
But Sonmez was angered by the memo, saying that Buzbee “provides fodder for *more* harassment.”