Washington Post fires journalist at center of online battle
NEW YORK — The Washington Post has fired Felicia Sonmez, who sparked a vigorous online debate this week over social media politics and the public treatment of colleagues after she criticized a fellow reporter for retweeting an offensive joke.
The Post said Friday it would not comment on personnel issues. But a copy of a dismissal letter sent on Thursday, accusing him of “insubordination, slandering your colleagues online and violating the Post’s standards for collegiality and inclusiveness in the workplace” was posted on the Mediaite website and quoted in other news reports.
The outspoken political writer, whose second stint at the Post began in 2018, declined to comment on Friday.
The incident began when Sonmez tweeted a screenshot of an offensive joke that a colleague, Dave Weigel, tweeted, adding the comment: “Fantastic to work in a medium where retweets like this are allowed.” The Post suspended Weigel for a month for his retweet, according to published information.
This prompted another reporter, Jose Del Real, to criticize Sonmez online. While saying Weigel was wrong, Del Real called for compassion. “Gathering the internet to attack him for a mistake he made actually solves nothing,” he wrote.
This led to a controversial back-and-forth, with Sonmez accusing Del Real of attacking her.
As an online debate grew and drew more and more people, Post editor Sally Buzbee sent out two memos urging staff members to respect each other. The second, on Tuesday, was harsher: Buzbee wrote that “we do not tolerate co-workers attacking co-workers face-to-face or online.”
As it consumed more attention, a handful of postal workers tweeted their support for the paper as a good place to work. Sonmez noted that these people were among the newspaper’s highest-paid stars and suggested that there had long been a double standard in how social media policy was applied to them.
She also retweeted a screenshot indicating that Del Real had blocked her on Twitter, adding the following comment: “So I hear the Washington Post is a collegiate place of work.”
As it grabbed attention, another Post reporter, Lisa Rein, tweeted at Sonmez, “Please stop.”
Sonmez, who worked at the Post in the early 2010s left and joined, sued the Post and its top editors last year, accusing him of discrimination by banning him from covering stories related to the sexual assault after that she was made public as an assault victim herself.
In the termination letter, signed by human resources manager Wayne Connell, the Post said that by questioning the motives of his colleagues, Sonmez was undermining the Post’s reputation for integrity and journalistic fairness.
“So does your baseless derision of our policies and practices, and our commitment to a safe and supportive work environment,” he wrote.
Sonmez’s union, the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, said it is committed to ensuring workers are only disciplined for cause, but did not comment on individual personal issues.
One Post columnist Karen Attiah tweeted on Friday that Sonmez had “always been incredibly kind and supportive” of her, and had reached out when Attiah had been the target of online abuse.