The newspaper that broke Watergate continues to be broken by tweet-gate as a fed-up reporter begged her whistleblower colleague to mute her attacks on bosses and co-workers after they described the newsroom as “collegial.”
“Please stop,” tweeted Washington Post reporter Lisa Rein at fellow staffer Felicia Sonmez, who continued her social media onslaught Tuesday despite the suspension of politics writer David Weigel for retweeting a joke she deemed sexist.
Sonmez’s tweetstorm came after Sally Buzbee, the Washington Post’s executive editor, circulated a stern memo, a copy of which was obtained by CNN, warning reporters to stop “attacking colleagues either face to face or online.”
It followed a missive she issued over the weekend as the Twitter storm brewed in which 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.”
After the second memo, some of the paper’s most prominent journalists chimed in to calm the boiling tempers at the Jeff Bezos-owned broadsheet. Their tweets included nearly identical language professing how “proud” they are to work at the newspaper and the “collegial” attitude in the newsroom.
Ashley Parker, the White House bureau chief, tweeted: “The Post is not perfect. No institution is. But I’m proud to work here. I love coming to work (almost) every single day, and knowing that my colleagues are collegial, collaborative and the fun humans — not to mention talented journalists — who are always striving to do better.”
Investigative political reporter Josh Dawsey tweeted, “no institution is perfect, including the post. but the place is filled with many terrific people who are smart and collegial. i’m proud to work here.”
And Amy Gardner, a political reporter, wrote: “The Washington Post newsroom is filled with collegial, collaborative and respectful journalists who do critically important work every day. I’m immensely proud to work here.”
Sonmez quickly mocked the idea that her place of work was “collegial.”
She blasted management for not forcing another reporter, Jose Del Real, to delete earlier tweets criticizing her attack on Weigel, who was sidelined for a month without pay on Monday.
“These tweets falsely accusing me of ‘clout chasing,’ ‘bullying,’ ‘cruelty,’ and directing an ‘eager mob’ to carry out ‘a barrage of online abuse’ are still up…even after I repeatedly raised them to management and noted that I’ve been receiving threats and abuse,” Sonmez tweeted.
She then sarcastically added “Collegial!”
That finally prompted Rein to issue her two-word plea for Sonmez to “Please stop.”
But Sonmez persisted, slamming Del Real for blocking her on Twitter.
“So I hear The Washington Post is a collegial workplace,” she wrote and shared a screenshot of Del Real making his Twitter account inaccessible to her.
Del Real was the first Washington Post reporter to publicly criticize Sonmez for her reaction to Weigel’s 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 original tweet by Harless.
Buzbee’s memo had pleaded for cooler heads to prevail.
“In this newsroom, we share many important common values. A belief in the power of journalism. Hatred of racist or sexist behavior, language or systems,” Buzbee wrote.
“A conviction when people come together in good faith, with respect and trust, it creates an environment that enables each person to do powerful and important work. We also occasionally disagree: We come from different backgrounds and experiences, and we each see the world differently.”
Sonmez was angered by Weigel’s retweet, writing: “Fantastic to work at a news outlet where retweets like this are allowed!”
Weigel, 40, responded by deleting the retweet and apologizing.
“I just removed a retweet of an offensive joke. I apologize and did not mean to cause any harm,” he tweeted.
Management appeared to support Sonmez.
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 Del Real, a features writer for the newspaper, took issue with Sonmez’s public criticism of Weigel.
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.”
He 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 Buzbee 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 her first memo to staffers on Sunday.
“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.”