The Washington Post's top editor sent a memo to staffers addressing the newspaper's social media policy on Thursday but did not apologize for a reporter who was suspended — and then reinstated after widespread condemnation of the move — for sharing a link about Kobe Bryant's rape case shortly after his death on Jan. 26.
The Post claimed the reporter breached its social media policy. Days later after other journalists, including Post colleagues, slammed the suspension, the Post backtracked and said the reporter did not violate the policy. Still, executive editor Marty Baron refused to apologize.
"We do not want social media activity to be a distraction, and we do not want it to give a false impression of the tenor of our coverage," Baron wrote in a memo obtained by CNN. "It is not always easy to know where to draw the line."
The Post suspended reporter Felicia Sonmez earlier this week after she faced fierce backlash online for tweeting a 2016 Daily Beast story that detailed a sexual assault allegation made against Bryant. In an email obtained by The New York Times, Baron told Sonmez her social media behavior was "hurting this institution."
Bryant was accused of sexual assault in 2003, but the criminal charge was later dropped after the accuser, whose name was not publicly released, decided not to testify. Bryant stopped short of admitting guilt but he did acknowledge that while he viewed the encounter as consensual, his accuser did not. The basketball star later settled a civil suit with his accuser for an undisclosed amount of money, reported to be in the millions.
Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, and seven other people died Sunday in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles.
The Post said Monday that Sonmez had been placed on administrative leave while it reviewed whether her tweets violated the newspaper's policies — an action that was widely criticized by journalists, including the paper's own media critic Erik Wemple.
But on Tuesday, the Post's managing editor Tracy Grant said in a short statement that Sonmez's tweets did not violate the newspaper's policies. A spokesperson for the news organization said Sonmez had been reinstated.
Following Grant's announcement, Sonmez said in a statement that she believed the Post's readers and employees "deserve to hear directly" from Baron on "the newspaper's handling" of the matter.
In his three-page memo, Baron notably did not apologize for the way the newspaper dealt with the incident. But he did say that the topic of social media use "deserves continued discussion."
"We want your thoughts on proper practices as well as on what more we can do to ensure your safety, and we will get back to you on how your views will be heard," Baron wrote. "The benefits of sound policies will accrue to all of us, and further conversations can help us figure out the proper course. I look forward to hearing more from you."
Baron said the Post's social media policies have two themes: "(1) The reputation of the Post must prevail over any one individual's desire for expression. (2) We should always exercise care and restraint."
Baron said it was important to him that the Post "not only get the facts right but that we get the tone right, too." He added that "on the most sensitive stories," the newspaper wants coverage "to be defined by the reporters and editors who have direct responsibility for it."
"We count on staffers to be attuned to how their social media activity will be perceived, bearing in mind that time, place and manner really matter," he wrote.
Baron also said in his memo that the Post had "invested heavily in security" and that the department was "available to provide immediate assistance." Sonmez had previously said she left her home and stayed in a hotel Sunday night over safety concerns. A person familiar with the matter told CNN that she stayed in a hotel through Thursday morning and said the Post had also provided her a security detail.
Sonmez declined to comment on Baron's memo, but a number of journalists took to Twitter to criticize it.
"He still owes [Sonmez] an apology," tweeted Lainna Fader, director of audience at The New Yorker.
"Weirdly enough, still not an apology or anything about the reporter they threw under the bus really publicly!" tweeted Kate Nocera, Washington, D.C., bureau chief for BuzzFeed News.
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