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Felicia Sonmez terminated by The Washington Post after Twitter dispute

(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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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.”

Post editor Buzbee warns staff on Twitter strife: ‘Be constructive and collegial’

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.”

“Respect for others is critical to any civil society, including our newsroom,” Buzbee wrote, referring to The Post’s social media policy, which requires employees to be “constructive and collegial.” Buzbee also directed staffers to communicate directly with co-workers to raise concerns.

On Thursday morning, in a Twitter thread criticizing The Post’s newsroom culture, Sonmez commented about a group of politics reporters who had tweeted complimentary things about the company. “They are among the ‘stars’ who ‘get away with murder’ on social media,” she wrote.

Sonmez also tweeted: “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.”

In July 2021, Sonmez filed a lawsuit against the newspaper and several current and former top editors, alleging that she had been discriminated and retaliated against when editors twice barred her from covering stories related to sexual misconduct after she spoke publicly about being a victim of sexual assault.

Her complaint partly centered on her claim that editors had unfairly chastised her for tweets about sexual misconduct. D.C. Superior Court Judge Anthony C. Epstein dismissed her lawsuit in March, ruling that Sonmez had not demonstrated that The Post showed “discriminatory motive” in its actions towards her.

Sonmez was briefly placed on administrative leave in January 2020 after tweeting in the hours after NBA star Kobe Bryant’s death about the criminal charges of rape, later dropped, he had faced years earlier. The Washington Post Guild, the union that represents Post staffers, issued a statement at the time expressing “alarm and dismay” over the decision.

On Thursday evening, the Guild declined to comment on Sonmez’s termination or any other personnel issues, beyond saying that it represents and provides support “to all members facing discipline.”

“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 statement said.

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