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The Problems at the WaPo


The transparently indefensible decision to suspend Felicia Sonmez for tweeting a link to an accurate and relevant news story is not an aberration but is reflective of a deeper problem:

Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez received death and rape threats for a tweet she sent out late last month linking to a story about sexual assault allegations against Kobe Bryant, shortly after news broke of the NBA star’s death. Someone found Sonmez’s home address and published it online. Instead of rushing to protect her from abuse or worse, her editors suspended her and suggested she go to a hotel for her safety.

The situation was different for national security reporter Shane Harris last spring. Harris also was getting harassed online, although not at the same level of intensity as his colleague. Someone discovered his home address. He told his editors.

The Post quickly dispatched a security guard to Harris’s home. The guard was armed and provided round-the-clock security for 72 hours, according to people familiar with the situation. 

The differing treatment of the two reporters is the latest example of unequal treatment of men and women at the Post, according to one former contractor and seven current and former staffers who spoke to HuffPost in the days after Sonmez was suspended. None wanted to use their names on the record for fear of retaliation from management or potential career damage for speaking out against a powerful news organization. Fears were particularly acute given what had happened to Sonmez.

Women at the Post are paid less, much less likely to occupy top leadership positions, and have their stories treated with greater skepticism. (There has been some improvement on the first problem since Bezos took over.)

From there, we can move to this story of Wesley Lowery, who was reprimanded and nearly fired for pointing out the very, very obvious fact that writing a history of the Tea Party without mentioning race is like writing a history of Citizen Kane that doesn’t mention Orson Welles:

One such internal spat, involving star reporter Wesley Lowery, caused a stir in the Washington Post newsroom last year.

Multiple sources familiar with the events told The Daily Beast that last year, Post Executive Editor Marty Baron privately clashed with Lowery, a national correspondent who was part of the paper’s team that won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of police shootings. The subject in question: Lowery’s tweets. 

Last year, Lowery posted a series of tweets questioning why a New York Times retrospective about the Tea Party failed to note how the early-2010s conservative movement was “essentially a hysterical grassroots tantrum about the fact that a black guy was president?” (The Times eventually added the racial context to its piece.) 

The tweets were apparently enough to set off Baron, who along with Managing Editor Tracy Grant told Lowery that his tweets violated the Post’s social-media rules and threatened the newspaper’s credibility. In a subsequent meeting, explained to The Daily Beast by two Post insiders, the top editor at the paper told Lowery that he had made overtly political statements about the Tea Party, and had maligned the Times in the process. 

The recourse, Baron suggested, would be for Lowery to become an opinion writer, or work for an advocacy organization. The top editor also threatened to fire Lowery if he violated the social-media policy again. The Washington Post declined to comment.

The idea that reporters should not be allowed to express political opinions is silly, and as Dylan Matthews observes is, ah, very selectively enforced:

The aristocrats!

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