The Washington Post has fired Felicia Sonmez, a reporter who has been waging a social-media battle against her employer for days, rattling the venerable paper. Management told Sonmez she was being terminated on Thursday “for misconduct that includes insubordination, maligning your co-workers online and violating The Post’s standards on workplace collegiality and inclusivity,” the New York Times reports.
The saga began when fellow politics reporter Dave Weigel retweeted a sexist joke last Friday and Sonmez highlighted it on Twitter, writing, “Fantastic to work at a news outlet where retweets like this are allowed!” Weigel quickly deleted his tweet and apologized, but the firestorm was only beginning. The next day, Post reporter Jose Del Real accused Sonmez of “clout-chasing” by attacking Weigel and the Post. (Del Real variously blocked Sonmez and deactivated and reactivated his own account.) By Monday, the Post had suspended Weigel without pay for a month, but Sonmez continued to publicly criticize the paper over what she said is its inconsistent standard of enforcing social-media policies and the wider issue of unequal treatment of journalists. She tweeted that Post journalists had quietly voiced their approval of her speaking out, though Vanity Fair quoted others who felt she was belaboring the point and undermining their institution in the process.
On Tuesday, Post executive editor Sally Buzbee, who has been on the job for only a few months, finally stepped in. She sent an email to staff urging that they be “collegial” online and warning that “we do not tolerate colleagues attacking colleagues either face to face or online.” Sonmez used this as more fodder for her campaign against the paper; other staffers disregarded the directive as well, showing their support or disdain for Sonmez. The kerfuffle inspired columns and Substack posts and even spread to venues like The View, becoming an embarrassing distraction for the Post.
Sonmez and the Post have been fighting each other for some time. Last year, Sonmez sued the paper, alleging her editors had done professional harm to her on at least two occasions. In 2018, after she publicly disclosed that she had been a victim of sexual assault, the Post temporarily removed her from the Me Too beat and from covering the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, which Sonmez said showed “discriminatory motive.” And in January 2020, the Post temporarily suspended her for tweeting an article about allegations of sexual assault against Kobe Bryant shortly after his death. Sonmez drew widespread sympathy after that episode, which many saw as an overreaction on the part of then-editor Marty Baron. In March, a judge dismissed Sonmez’s lawsuit, though her lawyer said she plans to appeal.