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Washington Post Reinstates Reporter Who Tweeted Link to Kobe Bryant Rape Allegations

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  • Felicia Sonmez, a reporter for The Washington Post, tweeted a link to a 2016 article detailing the rape accusation against NBA superstar Kobe Bryant after news of his death broke.
  • The tweet sparked backlash and debate over how to respond to the deaths of icons with controversial histories but ultimately prompted many to call for her firing.
  • On Sunday night, The Post suspended Sonmez, who later received the support of more than 300 of her colleagues.
  • After a review of the incident, The Post reinstated Sonmez Tuesday, saying she he did not violate company policy.

Washington Post Reporter Tweets about Kobe Rape Case

After tweeting about Kobe Bryant’s sexual-assault allegation the day he and eight others died in a helicopter crash, Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez was suspended.

By Tuesday evening, however, The Post reinstated Sonmez and cleared her of any violations. 

The incident began Sunday when, shortly after Bryant’s death, Sonmez tweeted a link to a 2016 Daily Beast article titled, “Kobe Bryant’s Disturbing Rape Case: The DNA Evidence, the Accuser’s Story, and the Half-Confession.”

Source: @feliciasonmez

That article details a 2003 accusation that Bryant raped a then 19-year-old hotel employee at a Colorado Spa. Bryant was subsequently charged with sexual assault and could have faced up to life in prison.

The NBA legend initially told investigators that he hadn’t had a sexual encounter with the woman, but later admitted to the encounter and to cheating on his wife, Vanessa Bryant.

Bryant claimed that the affair was consensual. The case then moved to court, but it was dropped in 2004 when Bryant’s accuser refused to testify.

“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did,” Bryant said in a statement the same day the case was dropped. “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.”

His accuser later filed a civil suit, and Bryant settled with her outside of court.

Such was the basis for Sonmez’s tweet. Sonmez, a survivor of sexual assault herself, has since said that she refrained from adding any comments to her tweet because of The Post’s policies.

Later in the day, however, Sonmez continued to tweet about the situation, saying she had received death threats, as well as telling other outlets she had also received rape threats.

“Well, THAT was eye-opening,” she said, “To the 10,000 people (literally) who commented and emailed me with abuse and death threats, please take a moment and read the story.”

“Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality even if that public figure is beloved and that totality unsettling,” she added.

Source: @feliciasonmez

In another tweet, Sonmez included an image of her email inbox. That image also contained the names of some of the people who had reportedly sent threats to her.

Sonmez’s Twitter activity also prompted many others on social media to call for The Post to fire her.

Washington Post Suspends Sonmez

By Sunday night, Sonmez deleted all of her tweets relating to Bryant, and shortly thereafter, The Post announced it had suspended her.

In a statement, Tracy Grant, a managing editor for The Post, said that Sonmez, “was placed on 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 judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues,” she added.

Sonmez’s suspension then sparked its own amount of controversy online. While some still called for her to be fired, others criticized The Post for the move and said she should be reinstated.

The Post Reporters Support Sonmez

Much of Sonmez’s support came from nearly 350 of her fellow journalists at The Post, who all endorsed a statement from The Washington Post Guild that backed Sonmez.

Another one of Sonmez’s colleagues, Erik Wemple, wrote an opinion piece in The Post asking what policies Sonmez had violated. 

“What did Sonmez do to deserve this brushback? he said. “She tweeted out a good story from the Daily Beast.”

In his column, Wemple argued that Sonmez was only reminding everyone of a real incident from Kobe’s life.

Also in an interview for the column, Somnez revealed that she had emailed two of her editors Sunday night to tell them about the threats.

She said she also included links to her tweets. Editor Tracy Grant then asked her to delete them. Sonmez, however, says she was a “little delayed” in taking them down, in part, because someone had doxxed her home address.

Later, Grant reportedly sent her another email reading that she’d be “in violation of a directive from a managing editor” if she didn’t delete her tweets. Sonmez complied, a move Wemple argued provided a victory for the people who had attacked her for posting a “perfectly fine news story.”

Sonmez also said, out of fear for her own safety, she checked into a hotel Sunday night, where she soon learned she was being placed on administrative leave immediately.

Grant then reportedly told Sonmez that her tweets didn’t “pertain” to her “coverage area” and that she was making it difficult for others at The Post to do their own work.

Arguing Grant’s point, Wemple said if The Post journalists can be suspended for tweeting outside of their beat, then the entire newsroom would be on leave. He also said Grant’s claim that Sonmez complicated others’ work needs supporting evidence.

Ending his column, Wemple recited one of The Post’s main principles:

“The newspaper shall tell ALL the truth so far as it can learn it, concerning the important affairs of America and the world.”

The Post Reinstates Sonmez

On Tuesday, The Post announced it would be clearing and reinstating Sonmez effective immediately, with the newspaper’s editors admitting they had been out of line in suspending her. 

“Reporters on social media represent The Washington Post, and our policy states ‘we must be ever mindful of preserving the reputation of The Washington Post for journalistic excellence, fairness and independence,’” Grant said in a statement. “We consistently urge restraint, which is particularly important when there are tragic deaths. We regret having spoken publicly about a personnel matter.”

On Sonmez’s reinstatement, The Post Guild called the move “welcome,” but the union also noted that Grant’s statement didn’t include an apology to Sonmez. It also criticized The Post for not “[taking] swift action to provide her with protection and support.”

On Twitter, Sonmez also issued her own statement.

“I believe that Washington Post readers and employees, including myself, deserve to hear directly from [The Post’s editor] Marty Baron on the newspaper’s handling of this matter.”

See what others are saying: (WAMU) (Washingtonian) (The New York Times)

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Trump Slams Oscars for Awarding South Korean Film Best Picture

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  • At a Colorado rally on Feb. 20, President Donald Trump bashed the Oscars for giving this year’s Best Picture award to “Parasite,” a South Korean film. 
  • He instead called for movies like “Gone With the Wind” to return, a production that has been criticized for romanticizing slavery. 
  • Additionally, Trump called Brad Pitt a “little wise guy” for making a joke about the president’s impeachment trial during his Oscars acceptance speech.
  • In response to his remarks, the U.S. distributor of “Parasite,” dissed the president for not being able to read the film’s subtitles. 
  • Others also gave Trump backlash for not liking the film because it revolves around a struggling Asian working-class family.

Oscars Jab

At a rally in Colorado on Thursday, President Donald Trump took a dig at the 2020 Oscars for awarding Best Picture to the South Korean film “Parasite.” 

“By the way, how bad were the Academy Awards this year?” Trump asked the crowd in Colorado Springs, who responded with boos. 

“And the winner is a movie from South Korea, what the hell was that all about?” Trump asked. “We got enough problems with South Korea with trade. On top of it, they give them the best movie of the year.”

Despite his criticisms, Trump went on to imply that he didn’t even watch the film. 

“Was it good? I don’t know,” he said. 

Credit: CBS News

“Parasite” made history earlier this month when it became the first film in a non-English language to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. On top of that, the movie took home awards for Best Original Screenplay, Best International Language Film, and Best Director—Bong Joon Ho.  

These accomplishments didn’t seem to impress the president. Instead, he called for movies like “Gone With the Wind” and “Sunset Boulevard” to return. Both films feature white stars and were directed by white men. 

Released in 1939, “Gone With the Wind” centers around a plantation-owning family in 1861. Accounting for inflation, it still holds the record for the highest-grossing film in U.S. history. But in recent years, the film has largely gone from a revered American classic to a piece of work examined and criticized for its romanticism of slavery. 

Also at Thursday’s rally, Trump slammed Brad Pitt, who made a joke about the president’s impeachment trial during his Oscars acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor.

“They told me I only have 45 seconds up here, which is 45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week,” Pitt said at the awards show on Feb. 9. 

The “Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood” star was referring to the former national security advisor who had not been allowed to testify in the impeachment trial. 

“And then you have Brad Pitt. I was never a big fan of his. He got up, said a little wise guy statement. Little wise guy. He’s a little wise guy,” Trump said on Thursday.  

Clap Backs Against POTUS

The president’s critiques of the Academy Awards did not go unnoticed. Though “Parasite” is in Korean, it’s accompanied by English subtitles. Neon, the film’s U.S. distributor, responded to Trump’s remarks in a biting tweet. 

“Understandable, he can’t read,” the company said in their reactions to Trump’s dislike of the movie.

Neon added the hashtag #Bong2020 in reference to the film’s director.

The Democratic National Committee also weighed in, adding their own diss to the president. 

“Parasite is a foreign movie about how oblivious the ultra-rich are about the struggles of the working class, and it requires two hours of reading subtitles. Of course Trump hates it.”

Other Twitter users chimed in with similar messages condemning the president. 

“Anyway parasite is still the best movie of the year Trump’s racist ass can cry about it,” one person said.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (Washington Post) (The Hill)

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UCLA Drops Controversial Facial Recognition Plan

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  • After backlash from students and activist groups, UCLA is dropping its plans to use facial recognition on campus.
  • Critics said the software often fails when recognizing women and people of color, and could lead to racial profiling. 
  • UCLA released a statement, just over a week before a National Day of Action to Ban Facial Recognition from College Campuses is set to be held, saying that the school longer thinks the technology would be effective at the school.
  • The use of facial recognition software on college campuses and on a national level has long been a subject of debate. Several cities have already banned it, and last week, two Senators proposed legislation banning it on a federal level unless Congressional guidelines are enacted. 

UCLA Stops Plans to Use Facial Recognition

After backlash from students and activists, the University of California, Los Angeles has dropped its plans to use facial recognition technology on its campus.

UCLA announced plans to potentially use it in its security systems. Students were concerned that this technology could interfere with students’ privacy and lead to racial profiling on campus. 

“We have determined that the potential benefits are limited and are vastly outweighed by the concerns of the campus community,” Michael Beck, the Administrative Vice-Chancellor of the school said in a statement to Fight for the Future, a group advocating for freedom in the digital age.

Fight for the Future is holding a National Day of Action to Ban Facial Recognition from College Campuses on March 2. The group had been very vocal when encouraging UCLA not to adopt facial recognition. They did a test on how effective it would be at the school and found racial biases in its algorithm.

Inaccuracies in Facial Recognition

Fight for the Future used Rekognition, a software made available by Amazon, and scanned publicly available photos of UCLA athletes and faculty and compared them to a mugshot database. They scanned 400 faces in total and said that 58 were falsely matched. 

“The vast majority of incorrect matches were of people of color,” Fight for the Future said of their findings. “In many cases, the software matched two individuals who had almost nothing in common beyond their race, and claimed they were the same person with ‘100% confidence.’”

They are not the only group to find this. According to a study from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in terms of one-to-one matching, there are higher rates of false positives for Asian and African American faces in comparison to white faces. They specifically noticed increased false positives when it came to African American females.

Student Concerns

Students at UCLA expressed their concerns about this. An editorial in the school’s paper, the Daily Bruin, warned against using facial recognition because of the potential inaccuracies and profiling of people of color.

“For students belonging to these groups, facial recognition technology would simply reinforce the biases that are already stacked against them,” the piece said. The editorial listed privacy as a concern as well.

“Facial recognition technology would present a major breach of students’ privacy and make students feel unsafe on a campus they are supposed to call home,” the Daily Bruin editorial staff wrote. “It is one thing to monitor campus activity with security cameras, but it’s another entirely to automatically identify individuals and track their every move on campus.”

Students and advocacy groups like Fight for the Future were pleased with UCLA’s ultimate decision to not use facial recognition.

“Let this be a lesson to other school administrators: if you try to experiment on your campus with racist, invasive surveillance technology, we will come for you. And we don’t lose,” Deputy Director of Fight for the Future, Evan Greer, said in a statement.

Facial Recognition on a National Scale

UCLA is not the only college in the United States having a conversation about facial recognition. Fight for the Future has been keeping a scorecard of schools that have stated their intentions on using facial recognition. While big schools like Harvard, MIT, Michigan State, and NYU have said they do not intend on using it, other major colleges like Ohio State, Princeton, and the University of Georgia have stated that they might. 

Outside of colleges, other localities have already been working on fighting against facial recognition technology. In 2019, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban facial recognition technology. Somerville, MA, Oakland, CA and Berkeley, CA did the same months later. 

Still, this kind of technology is still used on a wide scale. According to Vox, in states like Texas, Florida, and Illinois, the FBI uses it to scan through DMV databases. In many U.S. airports, Customs and Border Protection uses it for screening passengers on international flights. 

Recently Proposed Legislation

The national use of this could be subject to change, though. In February, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-)R) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) proposed legislation that would ban federal use of facial recognition until proper regulations and rules had been established by Congress for it.

“Facial recognition is a technology that is increasingly being used and marketed to law enforcement agencies across the United States without appropriate debate or consideration of its impacts,” the bill said before describing that this technology has been used at protests, rallies, and other events where one’s’ freedom of speech is on display.

“It is critical that facial recognition not be used to suppress First Amendment related activities, violate privacy, or otherwise adversely impact individuals’ civil rights and civil liberties,” the legislation continued. 

This legislation would still allow law enforcement to use it if given a court order.

See what others are saying: (Vice) (USA Today) (TechCrunch)

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Fashion Institute Apologizes for ‘Racist’ Runway Look

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  • In a Feb. 7 Fashion Institute of Technology runway show, models were asked to wear oversized prosthetic lips and ears, along with bushy eyebrows. 
  • Amy Lefévre, a black model, refused to wear the accessories and called them racist for recalling offensive caricatures of black people. 
  • Many agreed with Lefévre and criticized the designer and the showrunners for the display.
  • Multiple leaders at FIT have issued apologies in the wake of the backlash.

Controversial Accessories

Several head figures at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology have issued apologies after a runway show featured designs that many have labeled “racist.”

The show was held on Feb. 7 to debut designs of graduating students. For one look, designed by Junkai Huang, models were asked to wear oversized prosthetic lips and ears, as well as bushy, large eyebrows. Amy Lefévre, a black model, was horrified at the request. 

“As soon as I saw the pieces, I started shaking. I felt it was very racist,” Lefévre told TODAY

Lefévre said she verbally expressed her discomfort with the accessories, which to her were reminiscent of offensive caricatures of black people that emphasize those features. But Richard Thornn, the producer of the show, allegedly brushed off her resistance.

According to TODAY, Lefévre claims that he told her, “it’s only 45 seconds. It’s fine to feel uncomfortable for 45 seconds.”

The 25-year-old refused to don the accessories and walked in the show without them. However, other models in the show wore the additions, and these looks were seen by an audience of about 100 people as well as captured by photographers.

Reactions and Responses

Upon seeing the pictures from the show and catching wind of Lefévre‘s protest, many Internet users supported the model and condemned both the designer and the institution for allowing it.  

“Junkai Huang should go back to school for something other than fashion because his designs are racist and this is unacceptable,” one person tweeted. “FIT how could you allow this?”

In the wake of the backlash, FIT President Joyce Brown issued a public letter on Tuesday. 

“As many of you now know, there was an unfortunate and disturbing reaction to the show that I want to address,” Joyce wrote.

She claimed that no offense was meant.

“Currently, it does not appear that the original intent of the design, the use of accessories or the creative direction of the show was to make a statement about race; however, it is now glaringly obvious that has been the outcome,” Brown added. “For that, we apologize—to those who participated in the show, to students, and to anybody who has been offended by what they saw.”

Brown said the school is taking steps to “ensure that a situation like this will not happen again” by working with groups including their Diversity Council and Student Government.   

Jonathan Kyle Farmer, the chair of the MFA program at FIT who ran the show, posted an apology on Wednesday acknowledging Lefévre directly.

“It was never our intent for the show’s styling to be interpreted as racist or to make people feel uncomfortable but I now fully understand why this has happened,” Farmer said. “I take full responsibility and am committed to learning from this situation and taking steps to do better.”

//www.instagram.com/embed.js

This is by no means the first racially-insensitive blunder that the fashion industry has made. Last year, Gucci came under fire for releasing a black turtleneck with lips that could be pulled around the face, resembling blackface. Burberry faced backlash for a sweatshirt featuring a noose-like drawstring around the neck. In 2018, H&M was slammed for an ad featuring a black boy wearing a pullover that read “coolest monkey in the jungle.” 

Many seem to be fed up with these errors. 

“How do people not understand that this isn’t ok and keep doing it again and again and again?” one Instagram user commented on a picture of the show posted by a fashion industry watchdog account. 

See what others are saying: (USA Today) (BBC) (Washington Post)

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