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

The Washington Post building in downtown D.C. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
4 min

Washington Post Executive Editor Sally Buzbee warned employees Tuesday against “attacking colleagues either face to face or online” in a memo she said was meant to reinforce the need for collegiality.

“Respect for others is critical to any civil society, including our newsroom,” Buzbee wrote, referencing the company’s social media policy, which states that employees should “be constructive and collegial” when interacting online, and advised that staffers raise concerns with their co-workers directly.

The memo from the newsroom’s top editor came after a weekend roiled by a heated public exchange between two Post reporters on Twitter and the suspension of a third for retweeting a heavily circulated post that others decried as sexist.

The viral post originated with a lesser-known podcaster and Twitter personality based in Florida. “Every girl is bi,” Cam Harless posted last Wednesday. “You just have to figure out if it’s polar or sexual.”

When David Weigel, a national political correspondent for The Post, retweeted it, his colleague Felicia Sonmez took notice. “Fantastic to work at a news outlet where retweets like this are allowed!” she tweeted Friday afternoon. She also raised questions about the tweet with fellow politics reporters in an internal message board. Weigel deleted his retweet and apologized on Twitter for sharing what he said was “an offensive joke.”

An editor stepped into the internal message-board discussion to assert that “the newspaper is committed to maintaining a respectful workplace for everyone” and does “not tolerate demeaning language or actions.” But the discussion continued to simmer into the weekend, as Sonmez retweeted some critics of Weigel and argued on Twitter that the company enforces social media policies unevenly. On Saturday afternoon, another Washington Post reporter, Jose A. Del Real, tweeted at Sonmez: “Felicia, we all mess up from time to time,” he wrote. “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.”

Sonmez pushed back sharply, and Del Real briefly deleted his Twitter account, after saying that his exchange with Sonmez triggered “a barrage of online abuse directed by one person but carried out by an eager mob.” Sharing screenshots of Del Real’s thread, Sonmez wrote on Monday night, “It’s hard for me to understand why the Washington Post hasn’t done anything about these tweets.”

In the meantime, The Post suspended Weigel for one month without pay for violating the company’s social media guidelines, as first reported by CNN on Monday — a decision that drew criticism from some observers outside The Post, who argued it was an overreaction to a lapse in judgment from a writer known for an uninhibited and colorful online persona.

The Post has not officially confirmed Weigel’s suspension, citing the privacy applied to personnel decisions. But Buzbee wrote in her memo on Tuesday that the company “moved quickly to show our intolerance for a sexist re-tweet sent by an employee last Friday.”

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 harassment and assault. Part of her complaint centered on an argument that editors had unfairly chastised her for tweets about sexual misconduct. That lawsuit was dismissed by D.C. Superior Court Judge Anthony C. Epstein in March.

Before her Tuesday afternoon memo, Buzbee sent a brief email to the Post staff on Sunday that also called for “respect and kindness” from employees. Both Sonmez and Del Real declined to comment for this story. Buzbee on Tuesday declined to comment beyond what she said in the memo.

The union that represents Post employees, the Washington Post Guild, has repeatedly lobbied for The Post to update the company’s social media policies, which the guild has described as “outdated” and not sufficiently equitable, and repeated that call on Tuesday. In her memo, Buzbee acknowledged that there are still plans to update the policy but asserted that certain long-standing components remain key: “When it comes to your colleagues, be constructive and collegial: If you have a question or concern about something that has been published, speak to your colleague directly.”

Buzbee also stated that Post leaders “do not wish to inhibit any employee’s right to raise legitimate workplace issues.”

“We know it takes bravery to call out problems,” she wrote. “And we pledge to openly and honestly address problems brought to us.”