As Ed pointed out this morning, the one month suspension of Dave Weigel over a momentary retweet wasn’t enough for his colleague Felicia Sonmez. She is still writing long tweet threads wondering why other colleagues haven’t been punished for politely disagreeing with her approach. She is now leading an online campaign against the Post itself.
To all the folks out there who are following this story, please don’t be distracted by the (truly staggering) bile and hate and attempts to make this yet another “cancel culture” tale.
It’s about a company where internal pleas for change have gone unheeded for a long, long time.
— Felicia Sonmez (@feliciasonmez) June 7, 2022
A short while ago the Post’s executive editor Sally Buzbee sent out another memo to the entire staff reminding them they are not allowed to attack their colleagues “either face to face or online.”
Memo from Sally Buzbee to WaPo staff sent a few minutes ago: “We do not tolerate colleagues attacking colleagues either face to face or online.” pic.twitter.com/BNvvdc8fBL
— Max Tani (@maxwelltani) June 7, 2022
The statement reads in part:
We do not tolerate colleagues attacking colleagues either face to face or online…
When it comes to your colleagues, be constructive and collegial: If you have a question or concern about something that has been published, speak to your colleague directly.
We respect and do not wish to inhibit any employee’s right to raise legitimate workplace issues. We know it takes bravery to call out problems. And we pledge to openly and honestly address problems brought to us. We moved quickly to show our intolerance for a sexist retweet sent by an employee last Friday.
To be clear: We will enforce our policies and standards.
There are different ways to read this but here’s how I see it. The entire statement reads like a defense against Sonmez’s charges leveled on Twitter. Hence the claim that they have taken social media misbehavior seriously (contradicting a 30-tweet thread Sonmez posted today). However I think the Post is also doing something else by reciting once again the expectation of collegiality.
Keep in mind that Sonmez has already sued the Post once alleging “economic loss, humiliation, embarrassment, mental and emotional distress, and the deprivation of her rights to equal employment opportunities.” That lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice in March. The judge in her case found “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.”
Nevertheless, the Post has to tread carefully when it comes to Sonmez because any attempt to stifle her could lead to claims of retaliation. However, what she’s doing now is clearly pushing some buttons and I think the memos from Buzbee are meant as a formal reminder that “attacking” other employees by name either online or internally will not be tolerated. The Post is created a written track record.
This is what bosses and HR departments at any major corporation do when dealing with an employee they think might be headed for the exit. Step one is to state clearly in writing what the expectations are for employees generally. Step two, if she continues to lash out, would be to call her in for a discussion about the guidelines and how they apply to her specifically. Sometimes these conversations involve a plan to correct the behavior with a deadline at which point the employee’s behavior would be reevaluated. Either the employee pulls it together or they are one step closer to being fired. They key part is documenting all of these steps so that if it goes to mediation or trial, the employer can demonstrate the firing was neither capricious or retaliatory. Sonmez may not be there yet but I do think the Post is laying the groundwork to take action against her if she continues.
Meanwhile, a bunch of Post employees seem to be issuing very similar statements about how much they love working at the Post. Several people have pointed out that this clearly appears to be coordinated and that makes it a little creepy.
This is just weird and creepy. Why are they all posting identical language about how proud they are to work at the Washington Post, like from a script handed down by a cult leader? pic.twitter.com/t8VhQLtDI2
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) June 7, 2022
Here’s one example but all of the posts use very similar language.
The Washington Post newsroom is filled with collegial, collaborative and respectful journalists who do critically important work every day. I’m immensely proud to work here. https://t.co/CabYXQPJYG
— Amy Gardner (@AmyEGardner) June 7, 2022
My first reaction to this was that it seemed way too coordinated and maybe intended to put up a smoke screen of good feeling while all of this meltdown is happening internally. Iowahawk sort of summed up the feel of that in a tweet.
🎵We strive ever onward for excellence
At Washington Post Heavy Industries!
Together with our valued colleagues
We will reduce workplace casualties!
Ever having fun! Fun! Fun! at Washington Post!🎵 pic.twitter.com/Xfv7gXSW1a
— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) June 7, 2022
After further reflection, I suspect this is intended to be a response to Felicia Sonmez. Think about it. She got Dave Weigel suspended. She tried to get another employee suspended. Now she’s attacking the Post at length as a problematic workplace. And suddenly we get a bunch of employees saying people make mistakes (a reference to Weigel) but despite that the Post is a great place to work. I think this is meant to be a non-confrontational way of publicly disagreeing with Sonmez. In fact that’s the conclusion that Greenwald came around to eventually.
I suppose this is how these WashPost reporters have decided to condemn @FeliciaSonmez for her 5 days of maniacal attacks on her colleagues and attempt to get several fired, but it’s bizarre how they all use the same coordinated cryptic language and waited this long. Cowardly.
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) June 7, 2022
Again, it is a bit creepy but given that the executive editor just warned the entire staff not to call out employees by name online, they can’t go after her directly. Nevertheless, there are a bunch of people at the Post who aren’t on board with what Felicia Sonmez is saying.