A journalist from the Washington Post has been suspended after tweeting a link to a story about Kobe Bryant’s rape case from 2016 shortly after news of his death was made public.
Felicia Sonmez, a national political reporter for the newspaper, said she received “abuse and death threats” from thousands of people after she tweeted the link to the Daily Beast story.
She posted a link to an April 2016 story from the news site The Daily Beast which carried the headline: ‘Kobe Bryant’s Disturbing Rape Case: The DNA Evidence, the Accuser’s Story, and the Half-Confession.’
The tweet generated hundreds of shares and thousands of likes as well as many comments.
“Well, THAT was eye-opening,” she said. “To the 10,000 people (literally) who have commented and emailed me with abuse and death threats, please take a moment and read the story – which was written 3+ years ago and not by me.
“Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality, even if that public figure is beloved and that totality unsettling. That folks are responding with rage and threats toward me (someone who didn’t even write the piece but found it well-reported) speaks volumes about the pressure people come under to stay silent in these cases.”
Sonmez deleted the tweets due to the overwhelming backlash, but others on Twitter screengrabbed the posts and responded with disgust.
Backlash from fans of Kobe Bryant, who died alongside his 13-year-old daughter and seven other people in a helicopter crash on Sunday, was swift, with many labelling Ms Sonmez a “terrible person” and generating the hashtag #firefeliciasonmez.
The reaction on Twitter from Bryant fans was so severe that the hashtag #FireFeliciaSonmez was trending.
One person said: “@washingtonpost you should #firefeliciasonmez for this classless and heartless post with the passing of an iconic superstar literally HOURS after a horrific crash that also killed his daughter and 7 others along with them.”
Another said: “@washingtonpost @JeffBezos you can’t possibly continue to employ someone this classless, unsympathetic, and unremorseful a person as @feliciasonmez. I don’t agree with cancel culture but this is an exception.”
Another Twitter user wrote: ‘It takes immense skill and stupidity to find a way to play the victim, in a moment where 9 people lost their lives in a helicopter crash.
‘Again, delete your account.’
Wrote another Twitter user: ‘Whether it was written by you doesn’t matter. It was YOUR boneheaded decision to repost it within hours of his death.
Ms Sonmez also added a tweet that contained a screenshot of her email inbox with a message containing verbal abuse and the name of the sender clearly visible, which may be the reason for her suspension.
“Hard to see what’s accomplished by messages such as these,” she said. “If your response to a news article is to resort to harassment and intimidation of journalists, you might want to consider that your behaviour says more about you than the person you’re targeting.”
Ms Sonmez has since deleted the tweets and has been placed on “administrative leave”, said Washington Post managing editor, Tracy Grant.
Ms Grant told the Independent: “National political reporter Felicia Sonmez was placed under administrative leave while the Post reviews whether tweets about the death of Kobe Bryant violated the Post newsroom’s social media policy. The tweets displayed poor judgement that undermined the work of her colleagues.”
An anonymous employee from the Washington Post told California-based journalist and blogger Matthew Keys the screenshot may “violate Twitter’s terms of service” as it contained the full name of the email sender and Ms Sonmez’s managers “don’t care about the Daily Beast tweet”.
The private helicopter containing Bryant, 41, and the other victims went down on Sunday morning outside Los Angeles at about 10 am. An investigation is underway.
Kobe Bryant’s helicopter flew in fog that grounded other choppers.
Bryant is widely considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time and became a legend at the Los Angeles Lakers.
He was a five-time NBA champion and won an Oscar in 2018 for best short animated film for Dear Basketball.
In 2003, he was charged with sexual assault after a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado hotel accused him of rape prior to a scheduled knee surgery. However, the accuser decided not to testify in court and to pursue a civil suit instead. Prosecutors dropped the case the following year.
Kobe Bryant, who was 27 years old at the time, was arrested and charged with sexual assault and false imprisonment – crimes which could have landed him in prison for the rest of his life.
Sonmez posted a link to an article by The Daily Beast which included details about the alleged rape, including statements to police made by the accuser.
She told investigators that after she gave a tour of the lodge to Bryant, he cornered her in his room and started choking her.
The woman alleges there was a vaginal penetration which lasted ‘five minutes’ during that time she says she was crying.
Bryant denied raping the woman. He told police the sex was consensual.
Initially, however, he denied there was any sexual contact.
‘Um, she showed me around the pool, showing me around, um, we went to my room, she showed me the back view where the bears come up to the window, and that’s about fucking it, we shot the s*** and that was it,’ Bryant told police.
When he was told that the woman alleged that she was sexually assaulted by Bryant, he told the officers: ‘Is there any way I can settle this whatever it is, I mean…?’
Bryant told police: ‘If my wife if my wife found out that anybody made any type of allegations against me she would be infuriated.’
According to the report, Bryant admitted to having sex with the woman but denied the assault.
Eventually, the accuser agreed to have the charges dropped after Bryant’s lawyer read an apology in court.
After the charges were dropped, Bryant said in a statement: “First, I want to apologise directly to the young woman involved in this incident. I want to apologise to her for my behaviour that night and for the consequences, she has suffered in the past year.
“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognise now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did.
“After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”
‘I issue this statement today fully aware that while one part of this case ends today, another remains.
‘I understand that the civil case against me will go forward.
‘That part of this case will be decided by and between the parties directly involved in the incident and will no longer be a financial or emotional drain on the citizens of the state of Colorado.’
The accuser’s civil suit was settled out of court in March 2005 and Kobe Bryant never spoke publicly about the case again.