The Washington Post suspends Dave Weigel for a month over a retweet

Maybe one reason the Washington Post’s top communications staffer doesn’t have time to answer questions about that Taylor Lorenz story is that she’s busy dealing with another mess. Last week reporter Dave Weigel retweeted a joke he thought was funny. It read, “Every girl is bi. You just have to figure out if it’s polar or sexual.” Weigel quickly realized this was not a smart thing to do and undid his retweet but not before it was screencapped and one of his colleagues began going after him for it both publicly and inside the Post. Today the paper announced Weigel has been suspended without pay for one month.


The Washington Post has suspended reporter David Weigel for one month without pay for retweeting a sexist joke, two people familiar with the matter told CNN on Monday…

Weigel’s retweet was spotlighted publicly by his colleague, Felicia Sonmez, who recently had a discrimination lawsuit against the paper dismissed, a decision her attorney has said she plans to appeal.

Sonmez sarcastically wrote on Twitter on Friday that it is “fantastic to work at a news outlet where retweets like this are allowed.” She attached a screen grab showing Weigel’s retweet, which was of a tweet from YouTuber Cam Harless, who joked, “Every girl is bi. You just have to figure out if it’s polar or sexual.”

Sonmez, according to messages obtained by CNN, also confronted Weigel in an internal company Slack channel. She tagged him and wrote, “I’m sorry but what is this?”

If you don’t remember her name, Sonmez made news in Jan 2020 after the death of Kobe Bryant:

On Sunday, shortly after news outlets confirmed that Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter accident, Sonmez posted a tweet. In this tweet, she linked to the 2016 Daily Beast article discussing the 2003 rape allegations. This tweet only included a link to the article.

The response was immediate and extremely negative. Sonmez then defended her original tweet, explaining how the public should remember Kobe Bryant’s entire legacy and how the massive negative response served as a reminder of the pressure people face to stay quiet in cases of sexual assault.

She also tweeted about some of the more than 10,000 hostile messages she received, which included death threats. One of Sonmez’s tweets included screenshots of her email inbox, showing some of the negative feedback she was getting. However, these screenshots included identifying information about some of the people who had emailed her.


Because of the white hot backlash to her tweets, the Post placed Sonmez on leave. A group of employees signed a letter opposing that action. One of them was Dave Weigel:

The lawsuit mentioned above didn’t stem went back to a policy put in place at least as far as the coverage of Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. But the Kobe Bryant tweet became part of it as well.

Sonmez, a politics breaking-news reporter, has been open about being a survivor of sexual assault. She has posted threads about her experience and its aftermath, making her a target of online abuse as a result.

The issue first came up at The Post during Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s contentious nomination hearings in 2018. Given her public profile on sexual assault, Post editors told Sonmez that she couldn’t cover Kavanaugh, who was accused of assault, or stories surrounding the #MeToo movement…

The issue involving Sonmez flared anew in January 2020 after basketball star Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven other people were killed in a helicopter accident. Just a few hours after the news broke, Sonmez tweeted a link to a 2016 Daily Beast article detailing rape allegations against Bryant in 2003. Her tweet generated a negative backlash online, including death threats against her. Then-Post executive editor Martin Baron briefly put Sonmez on paid administrative leave, saying her tweets “displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.” The Post provided security, though, and covered the cost of the hotel room she moved into when her address was posted online.


After Sonmez complained about the policy on Twitter last March, the Post reversed the policy. But a few months later she filed a lawsuit over the issue saying the ban had done serious damage to her professionally and personally:

…while The Post did lift its ban on her ability to write stories on sexual misconduct issues, Sonmez’s lawsuit said that severe damage had already been done.

The lawsuit alleged that she had suffered “economic loss, humiliation, embarrassment, mental and emotional distress, and the deprivation of her rights to equal employment opportunities.”

“At various times, Ms. Sonmez became severely depressed, developed intense anxiety and received treatment from therapists and psychiatrists who she continues to see today,” Sonmez’s lawsuit said, adding that she was also prescribed anti-depressant medication that she continues to take.

And that’s the lawsuit which was dismissed in March of this year.

…on Thursday her case was dismissed with prejudice — meaning it can not be re-filed — by Judge Anthony C. Epstein of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Civil Division. Epstein ruled that Sonmez had failed to state an actionable claim.

“The facts alleged by Ms. Sonmez do not support a plausible inference that the Post discriminated against her, or created a hostile work environment, wholly or partially because she is the victim of a sexual assault or a woman,” Epstein wrote in his opinion.

Epstein elaborated, writing, “The Post attributed all of the employment actions about which Ms. Sonmez complains to her public statements, not to her victim status or sex. Its stated reason — avoiding the appearance or a perception of bias by its reporters — is a basis for the bans that does not implicate the [DC Human Rights Act].

Epstein wrote that “a news publication has a constitutionally protected right to adopt and enforce policies intended to protect public trust in its impartiality and objectivity.”

Epstein also rejected Sonmez’s claims of retaliation and negligent infliction of emotional distress.


I get the impression from all of this that Sonmez is someone who is lashing out at people around her including and maybe especially her own employer. And because she has sued them over the work environment, the Post doesn’t dare fire her because that would be considered retaliation. So she’s probably got a lot of leeway within the organization no matter what she does. In any case, the Post is going along with her scorched earth attack on Weigel, though I wonder if they’re not privately worried about another lawsuit.

For the record, I’ve met Weigel and interacted with him online a few times over the years. I’ve disagreed with him many times here and on Twitter, but personally he seemed like a decent guy and a hard-working reporter who knew his business. All that to say, I may not agree with him very often but even so a month without pay over a retracted retweet of a joke seems extreme. It’s especially odd given that Sonmez apparently considered him a friend.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of people still in good standing with the Post who have tweeted a lot worse:


I guess we all know how this works. When the right asks the Post to live by their own rules or to just make sense, no one really seems to care. When the left demands the same, the Post bends over backwards to prove how serious the are.

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