The Washington Post
last week reinstated a female reporter the newspaper had suspended for tweeting an unflattering story about Kobe Bryant.
Executive editor Marty Baron
was probably hoping the decision would be a good first step in getting past the controversy. Instead, the incident has invited greater scrutiny of its inconsistent social-media policy and allegedly
sexist culture. What would Kay Graham think?
's Emily Peck this week provided a scathing look
at the newspaper in the wake of its decision to suspend Felicia Somnez, the
reporter who had the temerity to remind people that Bryant wasn't a hero to everyone.
His death in a helicopter crash was shocking and sad, especially since he
was killed alongside his 13-year-old daughter, but the NBA legend had faced credible rape allegations years before. The nonstop hero worship in the wake of his death rings hollow among anyone who
empathizes with his accuser. She was mercilessly slut-shamed by Bryant's lawyers and eventually declined to testify.
Somnez faced a litany of abuse and death threats over her
tweet, and WaPo'
s management took the worst possible action in leaving her to twist in the wind, as I noted
The episode encapsulated
how WaPo "doesn't value women and men in the same way," unnamed sources told the HuffPost. The newspaper's sexist culture is reflected in its masthead, which shows three of the
top four editors are men, while only four of 17 department heads are women.
A WaPo spokesperson disputed the characterization of a sexist culture, the
The same day that damning profile ran, media reporter Maxwell Tani looked at the newspaper's history of threatening reporters
over their social-media posts.
Reporter Wesley Lowery triggered an internal spat after posting several tweets asking why The New York Times didn't provide any racial context to a retrospective about the Tea Party, a
grassroots conservative movement started during the Obama era. Baron threatened to fire Lowery, who is African American, if he violated the newspaper's social-media policy, according to unnamed
sources cited by The Daily Beast.
While I disagree with how WaPo's editors have treated their reporters, I also empathize with the predicament they face in
policing the public statements their journalists make on social media.
Journalists are public figures and are held to a higher standard of conduct, like a police officer or
schoolteacher. As such, they must be careful about making public statements that betray a bias in their reporting methods. If the newspaper is going to enforce a social-media policy, it should take
pains to ensure the rules are applied fairly and consistently among its reporters, regardless of their race or gender.