Bros before she-journalists

Don’t mention the war.

Yesterday, Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez tweeted a link to a 2016 Daily Beast story about the rape allegations. The story recounts, in excruciating detail, the accuser’s version of events of what happened the night of June 30th at the Lodge and Spa at Coridellera in Colorado, where she worked as a hotel desk clerk. According to her version of events, after Bryant, then 24, invited her into his hotel room, where the two shared a consensual kiss. After that point, she told police, he allegedly barred her from leaving the room, held her by the neck and forced her to have sex with him, then told her not to tell anybody. A subsequent medical examination at a hospital in Colorado found that the victim had multiple lacerations in the vaginal area that were “consistent with perpetuating genital trauma….not consistent with consensual sex,” and that Bryant’s T-shirt had blood spots around the waistline that matched the victim’s DNA.

Presumably “perpetrating” genital trauma, not “perpetuating.”

During interviews with police, the story goes on to mention, Bryant claimed that the sex was consensual, disputed police officer’s characterization that the victim was an “attractive” woman, and threw a semen-covered T-shirt (where he claimed to have ejaculated during the encounter) at a cop when he requested it as evidence. At a subsequent press conference, however, he was much more sanguine*, apologizing to the woman and stating, “Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did.” *[sanguine is not the right word; something like “conciliatory” appears to be the intention]

Call me crazy but I still think the difference between enthusiastic participation and “No” is not all that blurry and hard to detect.

In her tweet, Sonmez did not recount any of the allegations, merely tweeting the article without context. In a follow-up tweet, which was screengrabbed by independent journalist Matthew Keys, she said that she had received death threats following her tweets, urging people to read the article. “Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality, even if that public figure is beloved and that totality unsettling,” she wrote. Another tweet included a screenshot of an email she had received containing death threats and abuse, which showed the full names of the sender. “Piece of shit. Go fuck yourself. Cunt,” the email said. She tweeted the email to underscore “the pressure people come under to stay silent in these cases.”

It’s also the “pressure” women come under to stay silent pretty much all the time. That’s not consensual either, by the way.

Mediaite later reported that the Washington Post had suspended Sonmez for her tweets, though there are conflicting interpretations as to how and why this happened. Keys quoted an anonymous Washington Post reporter stating that Sonmez was suspended not for tweeting the  Daily Beast link, but for posting an unredacted version of a screengrab of the harassing emails to her which showed the sender’s full name. In a statement to Rolling Stone, managing editor Tracy Grant did not offer much clarification. “National political reporter Felicia Sonmez was placed on administrative leave while The Post reviews whether tweets about the death of Kobe Bryant violated The Post newsroom’s social media policy,” she wrote. “The tweets displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.”

Is that so. Washington Post reporters need their colleagues to refrain from talking about rape allegations if they’re about a popular sports star? Why would that be?

It’s also very much worth noting that the Washington Post has received intense criticism for historically displaying “bias or favoritism” in its own coverage of Bryant specifically. In 2018, the paper was lambasted for publishing a glowing profile of Bryant that, among other things, downplayed the sexual assault case by claiming he created his persona “the Black Mamba” in response to the allegation. “When Bryant returned to the court, the wholesome young athlete was gone. In his place was a man who could no longer convincingly portray innocence, and Bryant says he felt free to reveal the darkness that had always lurked inside him,” WaPo’s Kent Babb writes. “Creating an alternate persona, he says now, was the only way he could mentally move beyond the events of Colorado.”

The profile was criticized for being “stuffed to the gills with utter lunacy, somehow both the goofiest and most unsettling profile of an athlete I’ve ever read,” the Daily Beast’s Corbin Smith wrote. Earlier that year, Bryant had won an Oscar for his documentary short “Dear Basketball,” which had reinvigorated the debate surrounding the 2003 allegation and raised questions of whether his reputation deserved to be rehabilitated. Sonmez does not appear to make mention of the WaPo profile or the backlash to it in her tweets, but according to WaPo staffers who spoke with Rolling Stone, there was internal criticism within the newsroom after Bryant visited the office in October 2018, where he was given a tour and a warm reception. (Neither the Washington Post nor the Washington Post Guild, the union representing WaPo staffers, immediately responded to this claim.)

In a statement, the Washington Post Guild harshly criticized the paper’s handling of Sonmez and her tweets. “We understand the hours after Bryant’s death Sunday were a fraught time to share reporting about past accusations of sexual assault. The loss of such a beloved figure, and of so many other lives, is a tragedy,” the Guild wrote. “But we believe it is our responsibility as a news organization to tell the public the whole truth as we know it — about figures and institutions both popular and unpopular, at moments timely and untimely.”

Yes but that’s the union. Management likes its sports stars.

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