- 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.”
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.
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.
Fire Felicia Sonmez now!!!!!!!!— MaineDemocrat1776 (@MDemocrat1776) January 26, 2020
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)
Employers Can Opt-Out of Birth Control Coverage, SCOTUS Rules
- In a Wednesday ruling, the Supreme Court decided 7-2 that employers can opt-out of birth control coverage on religious grounds.
- Under the Affordable Care Act, employers have been required to cover cost-free contraception to their employees. Exceptions had initially been made to houses of worship, but a 2018 Trump Administration rule expanded that to include most employers, ranging from large public businesses to universities.
- The court sided with Trump, ruling that his administration had the authority to provide religious exemptions.
- Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor cast the two dissenting votes, claiming it could harm healthcare access for women in the workforce.
The Supreme Court sided with the Trump administration on Wednesday morning, ruling that employers can opt-out of providing birth control coverage on religious and moral grounds
Under the Affordable Care Act, employers have been required to cover cost-free contraception to their employees, though exemptions were made for houses of worship who could refuse for religious reasons. Exemptions grew in 2014 when Hobby Lobby won a Supreme Court case ruling that certain closely held corporations, like family businesses, could also refuse birth control coverage if it contradicted their religious beliefs.
Wednesday’s ruling pertained to a 2018 Trump administration policy that would allow most employers – ranging from small private businesses, to universities, to large public companies – to opt-out of contraception coverage for religious reasons. That rule was challenged by the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which claimed they would have to cover contraception costs to those who lost coverage under the Trump administration.
The court’s decision responded to two cases: Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania. In a 7-2 ruling, they sided with Trump. The two dissenting votes came from Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.
Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the opinion, said that the Trump administration “had the authority to provide exemptions from the regulatory contraceptive requirements for employers with religious and conscientious objections.”
“It is clear from the face of the statute that the contraceptive mandate is capable of violating the [Religious Freedom Restoration Act],” he added.
Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote a concurring opinion, claimed that the administration was “required by RFRA to create the religious exemption (or something very close to it).”
This could leave as many as 126,000 women without access to contraception within a year. According to Planned Parenthood, nine out of ten women will seek access to contraception at some point in their lives. While birth control is often used as a contraceptive, it is also used for a variety of other health reasons, including regulating menstrual cycles, lowering risks for various forms of cancer, and managing migraines, endometriosis and other ailments.
“This Court leaves women workers to fend for themselves, to seek contraceptive coverage from sources other than their employer’s insurer, and, absent another available source of funding, to pay for contraceptive services out of their own pockets,” Ginsberg wrote in the dissent.
Ginsberg claimed that the court’s usually balanced approach of not allowing “the religious beliefs of some to overwhelm the rights and interests of others who do not share those beliefs” was thrown away.
“Today, for the first time, the Court casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests,” she added.
Responses to Ruling
She was not alone in critiquing the rulings. The National Women’s Law Center called it “invasive, archaic, and dangerous.” The Center fears the ruling could have a larger impact on low wage workers, people of color, and LGBTQ people.
Dr. Daniel Grossman, the head of a research group at the University of California, San Francisco called Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health also condemned the decision.
“No employer is welcome into the exam room when I talk to patients about their contraception options, why should they be able to dictate the method from their corner office?” he asked.
On the other side, Tony Perkins, the President of the Family Research Council applauded the Supreme Court.
“It should be common sense to allow a religious group to conduct themselves according to their religious convictions, and yet government agents have tried to punish them with obtuse fines for doing just that,” Perkins said in a statement. “We are pleased to see the Supreme Court still recognizes religious freedom.”
See what others are saying: (NPR) (Associate Press) (New York Times)
Tech CEO Apologizes After Racist Rant Against Asian-American Family Goes Viral
- Viral video shows a man in a California restaurant spewing racist remarks at an Asian American family, including “Trump’s gonna f–k you…You f–kers need to leave,” and “Asian piece of sh-t.”
- Many have expressed support for the family and praised a restaurant employee who immediately demanded that the man leave the premises.
- The man was later identified as a San Francisco tech CEO named Michael Lofthouse, and big names even shared his identity including Chrissy Teigen and Patton Oswalt.
- Lofthouse has apologized, saying he “lost control” and will work to better understand inequality.
A California tech CEO apologized Tuesday after he was caught on camera making racist and offensive remarks towards an Asian American family.
“Woah, okay, say that again,” the person recording the now-viral video says. “Oh, now you’re shy? Say it again.”
In response, the man at a table a short distance away raises his middle finger to the camera, adding, “That’s what I’m saying.”
As people off camera tell him that he needs to leave the restaurant, he says, “Trump’s gonna f–k you…You f–kers need to leave.”
“Asian piece of sh-t,” he adds as he gets up from the table to put on his jacket.
“You do not talk to our guests like that. Get out now!” a restaurant staff member shouts at him.
“Who are these f–kers?” the man asks, to which the staff member responds, “They are valued guests.”
The employee then repeatedly screams at him to leave, saying he’s never allowed to enter the restaurant again. The man continues to make remarks, laughing while gathering his belongings before the clip ends.
What Prompted the Incident?
That video was recorded by one of the family members, Jordan Chan, on the Fourth of July at the Lucia Restaurant & Bar in Carmel Valley.
Chan later posted the video to her Instagram, writing in the caption that her family was there celebrating a birthday. She called the incident “unprovoked, unwarranted, and unconscionable,” explaining that her family was just singing “Happy Birthday” and taking pictures when the man started spewing his remarks.
She also said more vulgar and racist language was not captured on film, including comments like, “Go back to whatever f–king Asian country you’re from.”
In the remainder of her post, she went on to talk about racism in America, criticizing President Donald Trump for amplifying “voices of hate.” However, she ultimately ended her post by calling for change and encouraging people to vote in the upcoming election.
View this post on Instagram
❗️❗️❗️SHARE THIS POST❗️❗️❗️ Trigger warning: Racism, Vulgar Language (FYI he had a LOT more to say after I stopped recording) This is the face of the man who relentlessly harassed my family and I completely UNPROVOKED, UNWARRANTED, and UNCONSCIONABLE. We were celebrating my tita’s birthday, literally just singing happy birthday to her and taking pictures, when this white supremacist starts yelling disgusting racist remarks at us. (“Fuck you Asians” “Go back to whatever fucking Asian country you’re from” “You don’t belong here”) It is no coincidence that this man has the audacity to showcase such blatant racism on the 4th of July. White supremacy has a notorious habit of masquerading as patriotism! The fact that Donald Trump is our president (i.e. THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN THE WORLD) gives racists a platform and amplifies voices of hate. The surfacing of racists is so prevalent right now, even in such an ethnically/culturally diverse and liberal state like California, because Trump HIMSELF uses his position to incite racial tension and to promote aggression towards POC, foreigners, and immigrants. We need change! PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE VOTE THIS UPCOMING RE-ELECTION. PROTECT ALL PEOPLE REGARDLESS OF SKIN COLOR AND ETHNIC ORIGIN. ✊🏻✊🏼✊🏽✊🏾✊🏿
Chan’s recording spread like wildfire, especially after she asked one of her friends share it on Twitter.
Responses to Family and Restaurant Employee
In response, a ton of people online began praising the family and the employee for how they handled the situation.
Singer Kelly Clarkson, for instance, tweeted, “THANK YOU SO MUCH to this woman for speaking up and throwing this trash out! …Keep calling hate out! It’s unacceptable, ignorant, and disgusting! Change won’t happen if we’re sittin’ down so keep standing!”
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, some even sent flowers and letters to the restaurant employee. A spokesperson for the Bernardus Lodge and Spa, where the restaurant is located, also said that others have even offered to pay for meals or lodgings for the family.
In an emailed statement to an ABC affiliate station, the vice president and general manager of the Lodge also said he was proud of his staff for keeping in line with the company’s core values. He noted that the man was “escorted off the property without further escalation,” and extended an apology to the family.
Man Identified as Tech CEO Michael Lofthouse
The reactions to the man in the video haven’t been as kind. Many, of course, began trying to figure out who the man was, and eventually, several journalists identified him Tuesday as Michael Lofthouse, CEO of Solid8, a cloud computing firm based in San Francisco.
Once people got that information, they continued to share it. Comedian Patton Oswalt, for example, did so by sarcastically writing, “Could everyone PLEASE stop sharing this video of Michael Lofthouse? He’s the founder & CEO of Solid8, a tech company based in San Francisco. If it goes viral it could hurt Michael Lofthouse and Solid8, his company. Let’s all be nice to Michael Lofthouse and Solid8.”
Model Chrissy Teigen retweeted a photo of his LinkedIn profile, simply writing, “Oops.”
Then people began bombarding Lofthouse with comments on his personal and company social media profiles.
On Monday night, Chan uploaded a screenshot of a response Lofthouse allegedly wrote to one user who called him “a trash human being” who deserves every bad thing that happens to him.
That comment reads: “Great food [sic] for u – leave out planet. Asian f–k
Come near me or my people a u r f–king dead
Do not start
U fucking piece of shot [sic]”
However, no media outlets have confirmed whether or not that post is real and as of now, it appears that Lofthouse’s accounts were set to private or deleted.
After all the backlash, Lofthouse and issued an apology to a local ABC station on Tuesday, saying: “My behavior in the video is appalling. This was clearly a moment where I lost control and made incredibly hurtful and divisive comments.”
“I would like to deeply apologize to the Chan family. I can only imagine the stress and pain they feel. I was taught to respect people of all races, and I will take the time to reflect on my actions and work to better understand the inequality that so many of those around me face every day.”
But the family doesn’t seem to be totally buying it. Chan’s uncle, Raymond Orosa, who was also there for the incident said, “He’s just saving face. I think he really meant what he said and what he did.”
“I don’t believe his words because his actions speak louder than the words he’s saying,” he added, pointing to the social media comment allegedly written by Lofthouse.
Still, he told reporters, “I can’t say what he did was acceptable or right, it isn’t, because a lot of people will probably disagree with me for saying I forgive him… but I do.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (ABC 7) (Heavy)
Judge Orders Dakota Access Pipeline to Shut Down Pending Environmental Review
- The Dakota Access Pipeline must suspend operations pending an environmental review, according to orders from a U.S. District Court.
- A judge claimed that while this may cause disruption to oil industries, the Army Corps of Engineers did not provide a needed environmental impact statement. They must now draft one and undergo a review process that could last 13 months.
- This order is a big win for environmental groups and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who have been fighting for four years to shut down the pipeline. The tribe has long claimed that the pipeline is a threat to their main water supply in the Missouri River,
- However, Energy Transfer Partners, which runs the pipeline, is vowing to appeal the ruling.
Pipeline Ordered to Shut Down
A U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. ordered on Monday that the Dakota Access Pipeline must halt operations within 30 days, pending an environmental review.
The pipeline runs for over 1,100 miles between North Dakota and Illinois, transporting 570,000 barrels of oil per day. It has faced opposition from environmental activists and members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for several years over pollution concerns. Monday’s order is a victory for the pipeline’s critics.
In his order, United States District Judge James E. Boasberg wrote that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which permitted the Dakota Access Pipeline, had violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it allowed a portion of the pipeline to be built under part of the Missouri River.
“This was because the Corps had failed to produce an Environmental Impact Statement despite conditions that triggered such a requirement,” Boasberg wrote.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is located just under a mile from the pipeline, and gets much of its water supply from the Missouri River. They feared that having a pipeline under their water source could lead to contamination should there ever be a leak or spill.
The court acknowledged the potential consequences of shutting the pipeline down, including a disruption of North Dakota’s oil industry, as well as the oil industries of other states. However, Boasberg believed that the best path forward in this case was to shut the pipeline down.
“Yet, given the seriousness of the Corps’ [National Environmental Policy Act] error, the impossibility of a simple fix, the fact that Dakota Access did assume much of its economic risk knowingly, and the potential harm each day the pipeline operates, the Court is forced to conclude that the flow of oil must cease,” Judge Boasberg wrote.
The court is asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reassess the environmental impacts of the pipeline and to prepare an impact statement. Judge Boaberg first ordered a review back in March. Per Monday’s ruling, the pipeline must shut down pending the review, a process that is expected to last 13 months.
Responses to Order
The ruling could be appealed and only closes the pipeline temporarily. Still, it was cause for celebration for members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other activists who had been protesting against the Dakota Access Pipeline since 2016.
“Today is a historic day for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the many people who have supported us in the fight against the pipeline,” Mike Faith, Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said in a statement. “This pipeline should have never been built here. We told them that from the beginning.”
“It took four long years, but today justice has been served at Standing Rock,” said Jan Hasselman, an Earthjustice attorney representing the tribe. “If the events of 2020 have taught us anything, it’s that health and justice must be prioritized early on in any decision-making process if we want to avoid a crisis later on.”
Youth activist and founder of Fridays for Future Greta Thunberg also applauded the court’s decision on Twitter.
On the other hand, however, the decision was met with swift criticism from Energy Transfer Partners, which controls the pipeline. The company has promised legal action, and according to Hasselman, has already filed for an appeal.
In a statement, Energy Transfer said the order is “not supported by the law or the facts of the case.”
“Furthermore, we believe that Judge Boasberg has exceeded his authority in ordering the shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has been safely operating for more than three years,” it said.
Energy Transfer claims that billions of dollars of tax and royalty revenue will be lost by local and tribal governments in several states.
“The economic implications of the Judge’s order are too big to ignore and we will do all we can to ensure its continued operation,” the company stated, before maintaining that the Dakota Access Pipeline is environmentally safe and responsible.