Last month Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez filed a lawsuit against the newspaper for discrimination, alleging that editors barred Sonmez from reporting on stories involving sexual assault after she came out as a survivor of sexual assault herself. Now, the lawsuit has also revealed that while the Post barred Sonmez from reporting on certain stories they allowed another reporter who had been accused of workplace sexual harassment to continue reporting on similar stories.
Sonmez’s lawsuit—filed in court on July, 22nd—begins in 2018 when the reporter, who had spoken out earlier that year about being assaulted by then-Los Angeles Times reporter Jonathan Klaiman, was barred from covering emerging sexual assault accusations about then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The limit on Sonmez’s coverage continued until March of this year after it was reported on by Politico. During that time, she was not allowed to report on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s revelations that she is a survivor of assault or harassment allegations against Andrew Cuomo; additionally, Somnez had to remove herself from covering former Missouri Governor Eric Greiten’s Senate campaign due to sexual assault allegations previously made against the former governor.
Sonmez was also suspended from reporting completely by the paper following Kobe Bryant’s death in early 2020 after tweeting a link to an article about sexual assault allegations made about Bryant in 2003. The New York Times published an email sent to Sonmez from the then-executive editor of the Post Marty Baron who said, “Please stop. You’re hurting this institution by doing this.” At the time, Sonmez’s colleagues at the Post sent a letter to leadership at the newspaper, including to Baron, criticizing their decision to suspend Baron and “control how Felciaia speaks on matters of sexual violence.”
According to The Daily Beast, Sonmez’s lawsuit also mentions how a male reporter who allegedly sent “an unsolicited photo of his underwear-covered crotch to a young woman” was allowed to continue reporting on stories of sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination while Sonmez was not. Though the lawsuit does not mention any names, The Daily Beast’s reporting confirmed that the lawsuit was referring to Post journalist Simon Denyer. The allegations against Denyer were also made in 2018 and investigated internally by the newspaper who later found no wrongdoing.
The Post’s decision to remove Somnez from stories concerning sexual assault and misconduct was allegedly made in the name of journalistic “objectivity”. But revelations that male reporters faced with allegations against themselves were not met with the same concerns about conflicts of interest or objectivity, raises questions about the real outcome of “journalistic objectivity” as Jezebel writer Marie Solis pointed out when Somnez’s reporting barring was first revealed:
“When objectivity is so revered while at the same time so ill-defined, it is only a short road to it being weaponized, its mosts facile interpretations indulged. In this instance, the Washington Post has reduced objectivity to a state of being; a reporter either has it or she doesn’t. The having, it seems, fundamentally relies on what body a reporter occupies, and the experiences they’ve had in it. When objectivity is taken to this extreme, it is inevitable marginalized reporters who suffer the consequences, as well as their audiences, who are denied the rigorous, nuanced, and intellectually honest coverage writers can produce when an issue hits close to home.”
The double standard nature of the editorial move puts the spotlight on the newspaper’s former executive editor Marty Baron (most well-known to the general public for his leadership on the Boston Globe’s investigation of the Catholic Church’s sex abuse against children). When asked last month in a discussion with the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong if he regretted decisions related to Somnez’s reporting ban he declined to comment on the case specifically and instead simply answered, “I don’t have any regrets.”
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