The Washington Post suspended a reporter for tweeting about Kobe Bryant’s sexual assault allegations » A testy Fox News exchange » Sean Hannity’s big interview

January 28, 2020
Category: Newsletters

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The Washington Post has a mess on its hands. It has suspended one of its reporters for tweets she posted Sunday right after news broke that former NBA star Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash.

Was the timing of the tweets inappropriate? Perhaps. Were they tacky? Maybe. Were they worth a suspension? That feels like a stretch.

Here’s what happened. Right after word started spreading Sunday that Bryant was killed, Felicia Sonmez, a national political reporter for the Post, tweeted a link to a 2016 Daily Beast story about a 2003 incident in which Bryant was accused of sexual assault. Criminal charges against Bryant were dropped in that case and Bryant later reached an out-of-court settlement in a civil trial.

After the original tweet, which has since been deleted but was captured by Mediaite, Sonmez tweeted about the negative blowback she had received.

“Well, THAT was eye-opening. To the 10,000 people (literally) who have commented and emailed me with abuse and death threats, please take a moment and read the story — which was written (more than three) years ago, and not by me.”

Sonmez also posted a screenshot of an email she had received that used foul language. The screenshot included the name of the sender. That’s apparently part of what got her in trouble.

In a statement, Post managing editor Tracy Grant said, “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. The tweets displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.”

The Post isn’t commenting beyond that.

One could argue that the timing of Sonmez’s original tweet was in poor taste. News of Bryant’s death, along with his daughter and seven others, was just being learned. Maybe then, as the nation was mourning a horrific tragedy while smoke was still billowing from the crash site, wasn’t the best moment to bring up a 17-year-old rape accusation that has long been adjudicated.

Perhaps her tweets violated the Post’s policy of publishing the names of those who email journalists without their permission. But let’s be clear: Sonmez’s tweets certainly didn’t undermine anyone else’s work.

So why did Sonmez tweet about Bryant’s old sexual assault case?

“It was jarring to me to see the initial coverage (of Bryant’s death) omitting any mention” of the 2003 case, she told the Post’s Paul Farhi. “The early obits and news stories made only passing mention” to it. “The seriousness of those allegations is a valid part of his legacy and his life. Those allegations should not be minimized in any way.”

Even The Washington Post’s own excellent media critic Erik Wemple called the suspension “misguided.” Sonmez told Wemple that she reported threatening emails to Tracy and her editor, Peter Wallsten. Tracy then told Sonmez to remove the tweets. When Sonmez didn’t immediately remove them — in part, she says, because she was tracking more online threats, including one that listed her address — she was told she was placed on administrative leave. She told Wemple she spent Sunday night at a hotel because she didn’t feel safe at home.

According to Farhi, Sonmez has “been open about her own experience with sexual assault.”

On Monday evening, the Post’s union sent a letter to Grant and Post executive editor Marty Baron backing Sonmez, saying it was alarmed and dismayed over the decision.

“We understand,” the statement said, “the hours after Bryant’s death 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. 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.”

Check out Wemple’s column for the rest of the details, but it sure seems like Sonmez should be back at work as soon as possible.

“Get your facts straight!”

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, right, at a Fox News Channel Town Hall with Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, left. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

A Fox News contributor was called out Monday and told to get her “facts straight.” Who called her out? A Fox News anchor. On the air.

Chris Wallace had a testy exchange with Katie Pavlich during the network’s coverage prior to Monday’s Senate impeachment hearing. Pavlich said, “The Senate is not the House, the House did not come with a complete case, and every impeachment beforehand, the witnesses that were called had been called in the House before being brought to the Senate. So there are questions here about the process.”

Wallace wasn’t having it as he interrupted Pavlich.

“That’s not true, that’s not true,” Wallace said. “They hadn’t all been called in the House, and in the Clinton impeachment, they’d been called by the general independent counsel. They had not been called by the House.”

The conversation continued with Wallace continuing to challenge Pavlich. During his closing thoughts, Wallace again called out Pavlich.

“So to say that in the Clinton investigation these people were interviewed by the House, one, they weren’t. And to say it wasn’t done by the Justice Department, because the Justice Department refused to carry out the investigation. Get your facts straight!”

At that point, Fox News’ Bret Baier had to jump in and say, “OK, let’s tone it down.”

Interviewing the president

Fox News host Sean Hannity (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Fox announced last week that Fox News’ primetime star Sean Hannity has been tapped to conduct the Super Bowl pregame interview with President Donald Trump.

The initial reaction is why Hannity? He is clearly biased in favor of the president and, perhaps, Bret Baier or Chris Wallace would be better choices given that both have reputations of being way more objective than Hannity. Now, Fox News could argue that Hannity is a natural choice because he has cable news’ most-watched primetime show. In other words, he is their biggest star.

One guess as to why Hannity gets the gig is that Trump wanted Hannity. Another is it shows how powerful Hannity is at Fox that he could elbow his way into the interview even though he isn’t trusted as a reliable interviewer by millions who might be watching.

The interview is expected to be pre-taped. Hannity told Variety’s Brian Steinberg that he expects the interview to last 10-15 minutes, although a portion may end up running on his Fox News primetime show.

Hannity told Steinberg that he will touch on topics such as impeachment, the economy and foreign affairs, but that he also expects to talk about football.

Hannity said, “I want to make sure I put myself in the position of somebody at home, hanging out with friends and waiting for the game to start.”

The 19th

The 19th — a new nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom reporting at the intersection of gender, politics and policy —  had a soft launch of its website on Monday.

The site is the brainchild of Emily Ramshaw and Amanda Zamora. Ramshaw is the former editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune and Zamora was the chief audience officer there. (It also should be noted that Ramshaw is a member of Poynter’s National Advisory Board.) The name of the site comes from the 19th Amendment

Ramshaw told The Washington Post’s Sarah Ellison, “It seems like there was a niche nonprofit newsroom for almost everything, and I wondered to myself why no one had created one at the intersection of women and politics.”

The site will launch in full in August. Until then, The Washington Post’s website will publish its articles.

Remembering Kobe

The newest edition of HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” will debut tonight at 10 p.m. Eastern and will include a retrospective segment on Kobe Bryant. It will also include part of a 2000 feature reported by James Brown when Bryant was just in his fourth season and a 2016 profile by reporter Andrea Kremer as Bryant’s playing career was coming to an end and he was transitioning to business/media.

The show also will include a Soledad O’Brien profile of sportscaster Erin Andrews and a look at Japan getting ready to host the 2020 Summer Olympics nearly a decade after the tragedy at Fukushima, where an earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear meltdown and explosion.

By the way, hard to believe, but “Real Sports” will celebrate its 25th anniversary in April. Tonight will be the 274th edition of the program.

So you wanna be president?

MSNBC “Hardball” host Chris Matthews launched a new podcast Monday called “So You Wanna Be President?” It’s a six-episode series that will dig into what it will take to win the Democratic nomination. Guests will include commentators such as Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan and “PBS NewsHour” anchor Judy Woodruff.

Matthews told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “I think it’s a chance to settle down with some people who can let you know what happened in the back room, offer little more perspective, and give (listeners) a sense of the decisions and mistakes that are made during campaigns that make all the difference.”

Media tidbits

  • NBC “Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt will be a guest on tonight’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers.”
  • TV ratings of networks covering the news of Kobe Bryant’s death on Sunday were way above normal. John Ourand from Sports Business Daily reports that ESPN2’s Sunday ratings were up 758%, while NBA TV’s ratings were up 560%.

Hot type

Kobe Bryant in 2016. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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