Washington Post Fires Felicia Sonmez Amid Week of Infighting

From a story on thedailybeast.com by Corbin Bolies headlined “The Washington Post Fires Felicia Sonmez Amid Week of Infighting”:

The Washington Post has fired national political reporter Felicia Sonmez, The Daily Beast has confirmed, capping off a week’s worth of highly public drama at the paper.

Sonmez’s exit from the paper comes after a week of WaPo infighting that stoked heated conversations over newsroom inequity and social-media use, with multiple reporters taking shots at each other in public.

Somnez was emailed a termination letter, according to The New York Times, pointing to “misconduct that includes insubordination, maligning your co-workers online and violating The Post’s standards on workplace collegiality and inclusivity.”

“We cannot allow you to continue to work as a journalist representing The Washington Post,” the letter said.

The Washington Post Guild declined to discuss Sonmez’s firing, but it did warn that workers should only be disciplined with “just cause.”

“The Washington Post Guild’s mission is to ensure equal treatment and protection for all employees and uplift members as they fight to create a just and inclusive workplace in which workers can thrive,” the guild’s leadership said. “Unit leadership is committed to ensuring that our contract is respected and workers are only disciplined with just cause. We represent and provide support to all members facing discipline. We do not comment on individual personnel issues.”

The seemingly unending dramatics began late last week when political reporter Dave Weigel retweeted a sexist post about bisexual women. He later apologized but not before Sonmez publicly called him out along with the paper’s management, writing, “Fantastic to work at a news outlet where retweets like this are allowed!”

Fellow Post reporter Jose A. Del Real then publicly accused Sonmez of “repeated and targeted public harassment of a colleague,” which led to several tweets worth of beefing between the pair until Del Real blocked her Sunday.

The weekend ordeal prompted Executive Editor Sally Buzbee to issue a somewhat vague memo telling staffers to play nice. But tensions remained high on Monday as WaPo video technician Breanna Muir reportedly replied-all to the memo to cheer on Sonmez and call out a different colleague for referring to her in a tweet as “Breanna Taylor.” The paper has a “toxic work environment,” Muir wrote in her staff-wide note.

On Tuesday, Buzbee sent out yet another company-wide memo, stating that the paper does “not tolerate colleagues attacking colleagues” and promising to enforce the paper’s social media and workplace harassment policies. The memo came hours after Sonmez published a 30-tweet thread alleging editors took a years-long approach of preferential treatment for higher-profile reporters and their social media presence.

Sonmez, meanwhile, continued to tweet, highlighting critical posts from Del Real (who had not responded to Sonmez after Saturday) as a mockery of Buzbee‘s claim to a “collegial workplace.”

Veteran Post reporter Lisa Rein then stepped in to publicly plead with Sonmez: “Please stop.”

That same afternoon, several high-profile Washington Post reporters, including Josh Dawsey and Ashley Parker, tweeted about how “proud” they are to work at the newspaper.

That kumbaya moment prompted Sonmez to post a lengthy thread on Thursday noting how “the reporters who issued synchronized tweets this week downplaying the Post’s workplace issues have a few things in common.” She added that they are “All white” and “They are among the ‘stars’ who ‘get away with murder’ on social media.”

Sonmez’s battles with the Post are not new. She previously sued former Executive Editor Marty Baron, then-national editor and current managing editor Steven Ginsberg, and other top brass after the paper temporarily barred her from covering stories involving sexual assault after she revealed herself to be a survivor. Management’s decision caused her “economic loss, humiliation, embarrassment, mental and emotional distress,“ Sonmez argued.

A D.C. judge dismissed the lawsuit in March, arguing the Post did not show a “discriminatory motive” when it made the decision. Still, Sonmez has vocalized her frustration with her former paper online, arguing it does not do enough to manage newsroom inequities.

“Post employees have been pleading with management *for years* to take action to live up to their words when it comes to inclusivity, fairness and protecting their staff,” Sonmez wrote Tuesday on Twitter. “The only thing that seems to actually bring about change is when the frustrations boil over into public view.”

Also see the New York Times story by Katie Robertson headlined “Reporter Felicia Sonmez Is Fired by The Washington Post.” The story:

Felicia Sonmez, a reporter for The Washington Post who in recent days has been at the center of a debate over the organization’s social media policies and the culture of the newsroom, was fired on Thursday, according to three people with knowledge of the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters.

Ms. Sonmez was fired over email on Thursday afternoon, according to one of the people. In an emailed termination letter, which was viewed by The New York Times, Ms. Sonmez was told that The Post was ending her employment, effective immediately, “for misconduct that includes insubordination, maligning your co-workers online and violating The Post’s standards on workplace collegiality and inclusivity.”

The email, from Wayne Connell, the Post’s chief human resources officer, also said Ms. Sonmez’s “public attempts to question the motives of your co-journalists” undermined The Post’s reputation.

“We cannot allow you to continue to work as a journalist representing The Washington Post,” the letter said.

Ms. Sonmez’s internal Slack account was deactivated by Thursday afternoon, according to a screenshot viewed by The Times. Reached by phone, Ms. Sonmez said that a statement would be coming from The Washington Post Newspaper Guild.

The guild’s statement said it would not comment on individual personnel matters. “We represent and provide support to all members facing discipline,” it said. The news that Ms. Sonmez was no longer employed by The Post was reported earlier by The Daily Beast.

Ms. Sonmez, a national political reporter, sued the paper and several top editors last year, saying they had discriminated against her by barring her from covering stories about sexual assault after she had publicly identified herself as a victim of assault. The case was dismissed in March, with the judge noting that The Post had attributed the coverage bans not to her being a victim of sexual assault but to concerns that her public statements had created an appearance of bias. Ms. Sonmez’s lawyer at the time said she planned to appeal.

In the past week, she has been at the center of a public firestorm over the newsroom’s culture. On Friday, Dave Weigel, a political reporter at the paper, retweeted a sexist joke that implied women were either bisexual or bipolar. Ms. Sonmez then tweeted, “Fantastic to work at a news outlet where retweets like this are allowed!”

Mr. Weigel apologized for the tweet. On Monday, he was suspended by The Post for a month without pay, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

Ms. Sonmez then got into a Twitter disagreement with Jose A. Del Real, a reporter who acknowledged Mr. Weigel’s tweet was “unacceptable” but admonished Ms. Sonmez for “rallying the internet to attack” Mr. Weigel. Mr. Real later sent several tweets regarding an “unrelenting series of attacks” against him, and Ms. Sonmez questioned why The Post had not done anything to reprimand him for his tweets about her, including one that said she had engaged in “repeated and targeted public harassment of a colleague.”

In the following days, Ms. Sonmez wrote numerous posts on Twitter about the newsroom culture at The Post and what she said was the uneven way its social media policy was applied to different reporters. At times she jousted with fellow journalists at The Post on Twitter.

Many in the newsroom supported Ms. Sonmez throughout her lawsuit and were grateful to her for her advocacy for sexual abuse victims, according to two current Post employees, but the sentiment began to shift this week as she continued to tweet about The Post.

Some felt Ms. Sonmez was hurting the institution and disagreed with her use of public forums to criticize co-workers, the people said.

Others took issue with her response to an email from the national editor, Matea Gold, who had urged people to look after their mental health in the wake of the shootings last month in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas.

Ms. Sonmez sent a reply-all to the newsroom saying that she had once been punished after telling an editor she needed to take a walk after reading a difficult story.

Ms. Sonmez defended herself in another set of tweets on Thursday morning, before she was fired, saying, “I care deeply about my colleagues, and I want this institution to provide support for all employees. Right now, the Post is a place where many of us fear our trauma will be used against us, based on the company’s past actions.”

The fracas has amounted to something of a leadership test for Sally Buzbee, who became the executive editor of The Post last June. Ms. Buzbee wrote two memos to the newsroom in the past week asking for colleagues not to attack each other on social media.

“The newsroom social media policy points specifically to the need for collegiality,” Ms. Buzbee wrote in an email on Tuesday.
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Also see the Washington Post story by Paul Schwartzman and Jeremy Barr headlined “Felicia Sonmez terminated by The Washington Post after Twitter dispute.”

Felicia Sonmez, a reporter on the national staff at The Washington Post whose criticism of colleagues and the newspaper on social media in recent days drew widespread attention, was dismissed by the paper Thursday, according to a termination letter.

Kris Coratti Kelly, a Post spokesperson, declined to comment, saying, “We do not discuss personnel matters.” Executive Editor Sally Buzbee also declined to comment on the termination, which was first reported by the Daily Beast.

Reached by phone, Sonmez said, “I have no comment at this time.”

Sonmez, who worked for The Post from 2010 to 2013 before rejoining the newspaper in 2018, was scheduled to play a key role Thursday night in reporting on the House select committee’s televised hearing on the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to a Post editor involved with the coverage.

But in a Thursday afternoon termination letter first reported by the New York Times and viewed by a Post reporter, The Post told Sonmez that she was fired “for misconduct that includes insubordination, maligning your co-workers online and violating The Post’s standards on workplace collegiality and inclusivity.”

Sonmez on Friday used her Twitter account to call attention to a colleague, David Weigel, for retweeting a sexist joke.

“Fantastic to work at a news outlet where retweets like this are allowed!” Sonmez tweeted in response.

She also complained about Weigel’s retweet on an internal message board.

Weigel apologized for the retweet and deleted it from his account. The Post subsequently suspended him without pay for a month for violating its social media policies. (The Post did not confirm Weigel’s suspension, citing the privacy applied to personnel decisions.) In the ensuing days, Sonmez continued to use her Twitter account to focus on the incident, retweeting criticism of Weigel and contending that Post management enforces social media policies inequitably.

Over the weekend, Jose A. Del Real, another Post reporter, asked Sonmez to cease her criticisms, tweeting, “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.”

Del Real later tweeted that his back-and-forth with Sonmez prompted a “barrage of online abuse directed by one person but carried out by an eager mob.”

Sonmez then posted screenshots of Del Real’s tweets and wrote: “It’s hard for me to understand why The Washington Post hasn’t done anything about these tweets.”

As a result of the feuding, Buzbee on Tuesday took the extraordinary step of warning the staff in an email against “attacking colleagues either face to face or online.”

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