WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Washington Post has placed a political reporter on administrative leave after she tweeted a link to a story about rape allegations against NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, who was killed Sunday. Dozens of journalists at the newspaper criticized the decision.
Reporter Felicia Sonmez's tweet Sunday, amid widespread public mourning over Bryant's death in a helicopter crash, drew considerable backlash on social media. The Post reported that Somnez received threats of death and rape and had to move to a hotel after her home address was published online.
The Post said Somnez deleted the original tweet at the request of a managing editor. She also received an email from executive editor Marty Baron saying: “A real lack of judgment to tweet this. Please stop. You’re hurting this institution by doing this.” Somnez shared the email with an Associated Press reporter.
The Post said Somnez had been placed on paid leave while newsroom managers look into the episode. A spokeswoman for the newspaper did not respond to questions about Baron’s role.
Sonmez said Monday night that she remains suspended and doesn’t know how long it will last. She said she’s been working closely with the Washington Post Newspaper Guild and there may be a meeting with management soon.
Members of the Guild protested Somnez's suspension. They also noted that Somnez had “received an onslaught of violent messages” and “has gotten insufficient guidance from the Post on how to protect herself.”
“We understand the hours after Bryant’s death Sunday were a fraught time to share reporting about past accusations of sexual assault,” Guild members 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.”
Somnez's controversial tweet linked to a 2016 Daily Beast story titled “Kobe Bryant’s Disturbing Rape Case: The DNA Evidence, the Accuser’s Story, and the Half-Confession.”
Bryant was accused in 2003 of raping a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado resort. He said the two had consensual sex, and prosecutors later dropped the sexual assault charge at the request of the accuser. The woman filed a civil suit against Bryant that was settled out of court.