WaPo clears writer who tweeted about Bryant rape allegation

NEW YORK (AP) — A Washington Post reporter who had been placed on administrative leave after she tweeted a link to a story about a 2003 rape allegation against Kobe Bryant has been cleared to return to work, the paper said Tuesday.

In a statement, the Post said that an internal review had determined that political reporter Felicia Sonmez was “not in clear and direct violation of our social media policy,” but that the tweets were “ill-timed.”

Sonmez’s tweet came in the hours after Bryant, 41, died in a helicopter crash Sunday.

“We consistently urge restraint, which is particularly important when there are tragic deaths. We regret having spoken publicly about a personnel matter,” the statement signed by managing editor Tracy Grant said.

The paper had come under some intense internal criticism for having taken action against Sonmez. Hundreds of Post staffers had signed a letter from the Washington Post Newspaper Guild on Monday expressing “alarm and dismay” over the move and urging executive editor Marty Baron and managing editor Tracy Grant to ensure Sonmez’s safety.

The reporter’s tweet had come amid widespread public mourning over the shocking deaths of Bryant and eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and drew considerable backlash on social media. The Post reported that Sonmez received threats of death and rape and had to move to a hotel after her home address was published online.

Sonmez, who deleted the original tweet at the request of editors, received an email from Baron on Sunday saying: “A real lack of judgment to tweet this. Please stop. You’re hurting this institution by doing this.” Sonmez shared the email with an Associated Press reporter.

A spokeswoman for the newspaper, Kristine Coratti Kelly, emailed Tuesday’s statement to The AP but said the paper would not be commenting further. Sonmez did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment.

In their petition Monday, the Guild members noted that Sonmez had “received an onslaught of violent messages” and “has gotten insufficient guidance from the Post on how to protect herself.”

“We understand the hours after Bryant’s death Sunday were a fraught time to share reporting about past accusations of sexual assault,” Guild members wrote. “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.”

Sonmez’s initial tweet had linked to a 2016 Daily Beast story titled “Kobe Bryant’s Disturbing Rape Case: The DNA Evidence, the Accuser’s Story, and the Half-Confession.”

Bryant was accused in 2003 of raping a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado resort. He said the two had consensual sex, and prosecutors later dropped the sexual assault charge at the request of the accuser. The woman filed a civil suit against Bryant that was settled out of court.

Reporting by The Associated Press

Image:  In this April 13, 2016 file photo Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, right, fist-bumps his daughter Gianna after the last NBA basketball game of his career, against the Utah Jazz in Los Angeles. Bryant, the 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died in a helicopter crash Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. Gianna also died in the crash. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, file)

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