The Washington Post has fired reporter Felicia Sonmez, according to a story first broken by The Daily Beast and later confirmed by the Post’s Jeremy Barr.
The firing took place Thursday afternoon after a week of very public drama with Sonmez in the middle. (On Wednesday, Poynter wrote about Sonmez, the latest controversy and her time at the Post over the past four years.)
According to Barr, the Post is not commenting, citing privacy issues. An email to Sonmez has so far been unreturned, but she has declined comment to other outlets.
CNN’s Oliver Darcy reported that Sonmez received a termination notice that said she was dismissed for “misconduct that includes insubordination, maligning your coworkers online and violating The Post’s standards on workplace collegiality and inclusivity.”
It concluded by saying, “We cannot allow you to continue to work as a journalist representing The Washington Post.”
According to The New York Times’ Katie Robertson, The Washington Post Newspaper Guild said in a statement that it would not comment on individual personnel matters. It said, “We represent and provide support to all members facing discipline.”
Sonmez worked for the Post from 2010 to 2013 and then rejoined the paper again in 2018.
Last week, Post reporter Dave Weigel retweeted a sexist and homophobic joke. Sonmez took a screenshot of the retweet and tweeted, “Fantastic to work at a news outlet where retweets like this are allowed!”
That set off a very public soap opera involving one of the world’s most prestigious news organizations, much of it playing out over Twitter.
Over the next several days, Washington Post executive editor Sally Buzbee sent out not one, but two memos to staff, with the second one saying, “We do not tolerate colleagues attacking colleagues either face to face or online. Respect for others is critical to any civil society, including our newsroom. The newsroom social media policy points specifically to the need for collegiality.”
Weigel was suspended for a month without pay, but the story continued to have legs on Twitter with Sonmez and some of her colleagues tweeting about it. In one exchange, Post reporter Jose A. Del Real accused Sonmez on Twitter of “repeated and targeted public harassment of a colleague” and suggested she was “rallying the internet to attack (Weigel) for a mistake.”
After a back-and-forth, Del Real ended up blocking Sonmez on Twitter. Another Post colleague, Lisa Rein, tweeted at Sonmez on Tuesday night to “Please stop.” Sonmez replied, “Please stop … requesting that tweets from a colleague falsely accusing me of ‘bullying’ and ‘clout chasing’ be taken down?” Sonmez then added, “Do you have any idea of the torrent of abuse I’m facing right now?” Sonmez then included screenshots of some of the nasty attacks she has been receiving online.
After that, several high-profile Post staffers took to Twitter to defend the work environment at the Post. Several other Post staffers, who asked not to be identified, were quoted in this week’s Poynter story also defending the workplace culture at the Post.
One said, “I think a lot of people at the Post are frustrated with the way all of this is unfolding. Obviously, a lot of people strongly feel that this doesn’t represent the culture at the Post.”
This source continued, “It’s frustrating to have this person make these assertions broadly about the Post and imply and amplify this idea that there’s this great division and that the Post has this toxic work environment when that is not the case.”
Another said this went beyond just general newsroom sniping on Twitter.
“This is affecting sourcing relationships,” they said, adding that sources have told them that they are hesitant to talk to the Post right now because of all the “drama.”
On Thursday, Sonmez continued tweeting about the Post and what she sees as issues involving social media, among other workplace concerns.
It also should be noted that Sonmez sued the Post last year, claiming she was temporarily taken off stories about sexual assault and harassment because she had been public about being a survivor of sexual assault.
The lawsuit was dismissed in March of this year when a judge ruled that Sonmez had not demonstrated the paper showed “discriminatory motive” when it banned her from covering stories related to sexual harassment or misconduct, and that she was removed from such stories to uphold an image of unbiased news coverage. Sonmez is appealing that ruling.
Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer. For the latest media news and analysis, delivered free to your inbox each and every weekday morning, sign up for his Poynter Report newsletter.