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27 Jan, 2020 21:28

‘Poor judgement’: WaPo suspends reporter for Kobe Bryant rape case link tweeted HOURS after his death

‘Poor judgement’: WaPo suspends reporter for Kobe Bryant rape case link tweeted HOURS after his death

The Washington Post has suspended one of its reporters after she posted a link to a story about a 2016 rape case involving Kobe Bryant just hours after the basketball star’s death in a helicopter crash.

Felicia Sonmez posted the link not long after the news of Bryant's death broke on Sunday and faced furious backlash online, with tweeters accusing her of “disgusting” insensitivity, particularly in light of the fact that the crash also took the lives of Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people.

The Post said in a statement that Sonmez was placed on leave while it determined whether her tweets violated the company's social media rules. In the statement, the Post's managing editor Tracy Grant also said the now-deleted tweets "displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.”

But journalist Matthew Keyes has cited a source within the Washington Post claiming the news organization was not taking issue with the text of Felicia Sonmez's Bryant tweet, but rather the fact that she shared a screenshot of messages from critics sent to her inbox that disclosed full names. The Post was said to be concerned that could create "legal issues" and violate Twitter's terms of service.

Critics say The Post could be setting a dangerous precedent for journalists with their decision. Journalist Barry J Whyte argued on Twitter that suspending Sonmez for tweeting a "relevant detail," which was reported by others, is "heavy handed" and "chilling."

The story Sonmez had linked to was a piece published in 2016 by the Daily Beast headlined: 'Kobe Bryant's Disturbing Rape Case: The DNA Evidence, the Accuser's Story, and the Half-Confession.'

Sonmez said in later tweets that she had received “abuse and death threats” for posting the story and made the names of some of those sending angry emails public. The anger was so intense that the hashtag #FireFeliciaSonmez even began trending on Twitter.


The Post reporter was not the only one to face swift backlash for tweets calling Bryant a rapist. Actress Evan Rachel Wood also tweeted in the aftermath of his death, saying that while he was a “sports hero” he was “also a rapist.”

Angry tweeters told the actress that there is a "time and a place" for that kind of comment, while others called her a hypocrite for working with film director Woody Allen, whose daughter Dylan has long accused him of sexual abuse.

Not everyone was in disagreement with those bringing up the past rape case, however. "People are going to hate on you for this, but you’re right," one person tweeted to Wood.

Bryant was charged with sexual assault in 2003 after he was accused of rape by a 19-year-old woman employed at a Colorado hotel. The case was later dropped after the accuser refused to testify. She later brought a civil case against the sports star and settled out of court. 

Bryant claimed the sex was consensual, but acknowledged that the woman involved had not viewed it that way and offered an apology.

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