WaPo’s Top Editor Orders Reporters Feuding on Twitter to Play Nice

·4 min read
Celeste Sloman/Getty via The Washington Post
Celeste Sloman/Getty via The Washington Post

The Washington Post’s top editor on Sunday urged her staffers to treat one another with “respect and kindness” after two reporters engaged in a very public feud on Twitter about another reporter’s retweet of a sexist post.

The chiding email from Post Executive Editor Sally Buzbee did not name names but followed a social-media spat between reporters Felicia Sonmez and Jose Del Real over how Sonmez had called out Post reporter Dave Weigel on the platform.

“We expect the staff to treat each other with respect and kindness both in the newsroom and online,” she wrote in the all-newsroom email obtained by The Daily Beast. “We are a collegial and creative newsroom doing an astonishing amount of important and groundbreaking journalism.”

“One of the great strengths of our newsroom is our collaborative spirit. The Washington Post is committed to an inclusive and respectful environment free of harassment, discrimination or bias of any sort,” Buzbee added. “When issues arise, please raise them with leadership or human resources and we will address them promptly and firmly.”

The contretemps began unfolding Friday when Weigel, one of the paper’s star political reporters, retweeted a post that read: “Every girl is bi. You just have to figure out if it’s polar or sexual.” The Post called Weigel’s actions “reprehensible” and he issued a public apology.

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His tweet was also called out by Sonmez, who last year unsuccessfully sued the Post for barring her from covering sexual-misconduct stories after she revealed herself to be an assault survivor.

“Fantastic to work at a news outlet where retweets like this are allowed!” she wrote.

The controversy mushroomed when Del Real accused Sonmez of “repeated and targeted public harassment of a colleague” and suggested she was “rallying the internet to attack [Weigel] for a mistake.”

Sonmez retorted: “If you are more outraged over the fact that I pointed out a sexist tweet than over the sexism itself… all I can say is that speaks volumes about your own priorities.”

Del Real responded that “fighting sexism and misogyny matters deeply to me,” then added, “Entirely separately, I hope you reconsider the cruelty you regularly unleash against colleagues.”

By Sunday morning, Del Real had deactivated his Twitter account.

Sonmez, however, wasn’t done. She took to Twitter again on Sunday to accuse Del Real of “publicly attack[ing]” her.

“When women stand up for themselves, some people respond with even more vitriol. Last night, a Post colleague publicly attacked me for calling out another colleague’s sexist tweet,” she said. “He first hid any replies objecting to his attacks, and now seems to have deleted his account.”

Del Real then returned to the platform to defend himself.

“In hopes of de-escalating, I temporarily deactivated my account, amid a barrage of online abuse directed by one person but carried out by an eager mob. The one-sided attacks continued even after I stopped engaging. I know the old adage: Hurt people hurt people,” Del Real wrote in a thread.

“In such a situation, it is difficult to find the line between sympathizing and challenging with compassion. My instinct is to defend myself. But I talk a big game about kindness, and I’m going to try to practice some of that now by simply moving on and not engaging.”

Sonmez appeared on Sunday evening to refute Del Real’s promise to practice what he preached, claiming she had received “an email from him accusing me of fostering a ‘toxic workplace.’” He also appeared to cap off his final public words on the matter by blocking Sonmez, according to a screenshot she shared.

Sonmez declined to comment when reached by The Daily Beast on the alleged email.

Sonmez also dinged Buzbee, accusing her of fanning the flames of online vitriol.

“Example 5 billion and then some,” she wrote, attaching screenshots of tweets from users slamming her using sexist language, including an unfavorable comparison to Amber Heard.

“Especially great when a statement from your newspaper’s executive editor provides fodder for *more* harassment,” Sonmez added in her tweet.

Weigel didn’t immediately return The Daily Beast’s request for comment, but he has been at the center of controversy before.

In 2010, leaked emails showed him jokingly remarking about the death of right-wing radio kingpin Rush Limbaugh and hoping media tycoon Matt Drudge would “set himself on fire.” Those controversial emails, which left conservative media fuming, led to him offering his resignation at The Post.

“The sad truth is that the Washington Post, in its general desperation for page views, now hires people who came up in journalism without much adult supervision, and without the proper amount of toilet-training,” The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg wrote at the time slamming Weigel.

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