Accuracy in Media

Basketball superstar Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash over the weekend, leading to outpourings of stories, praise, and memories shared by fellow athletes, sports reporters, and fans.

Amid the news of Bryant’s death, Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez tweeted about a 2003 rape allegation against Bryant and how it was important to remember the good and the bad about public figures.

Sonmez, who covers national politics for the Washington Post, tweeted a Daily Beast article about the rape allegations, which claim Bryant raped a 19-year-old woman in Colorado. The accuser declined to testify in court, however.

The accuser and Bryant reached a settlement in a civil case.

Sonmez added comments in subsequent tweets, saying, “Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality, even if that public figure beloved and that totality upsetting.”

She then posted a screenshot of her e-mail inbox, filled with hate mail.

She deleted the tweets, but the Washington Post suspended her because “[t]he tweets displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.” Reporters criticized the Washington Post for Sonmez’s suspension and praised the newspaper’s union for backing Sonmez’s position. Here is a short list of reporters who tweeted their support for Sonmez:

The Washington Post later detailed the reason behind Sonmez’s suspension, which was tweeting the screenshot of her e-mail inbox without redacting or covering up names of recipients.

Reporters supported Sonmez’s tweet about Bryant’s past, but they failed to account for the privacy and security issues of tweeting a screenshot of one’s e-mail inbox for the public to see without making any edits. Both reporters and the Washington Post’s reporter’s union criticized the newspaper’s allegedly vague social media policy, which could be a valid criticism. But the reporters also neglected to take into account how Sonmez’s tweet offended the online basketball community, which led to a lot of the criticism surrounding Sonmez’s tweet.

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