- 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)
Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains
Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.
Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston
Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.
Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.
When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.
Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.
Signs That Went Unnoticed
The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.
On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.
Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.
“I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.
She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.
Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.
Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.
“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”
Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges
According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.
After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.
At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.
Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.
ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.
On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.
Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.
See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)
Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say
The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card
Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.
Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.
On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.
The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.
Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
Misuse of COVID Relief Funds
Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.
In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.
According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”
On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.
In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.
See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)
FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses
The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.
New FDA Authorization
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.
The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.
Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.
Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.
Hazy Recommendations, For Now
Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.
The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.
In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.
However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.
An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.
Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.