- 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)
College Board Changes AP African American Studies After Backlash From DeSantis Amid Education Culture War
As requested by DeSantis, the College Board removed lessons on contemporary topics including Black Lives Matter, queer studies, and reparations.
College Board Rolls Out Curriculum
The College Board, which oversees Advanced Placement high school courses, announced an official curriculum framework for its new, landmark Advanced Placement African American studies on Wednesday.
The announcement, made on the first day of Black History Month, has faced scrutiny for seeming to scale back a number of relevant subjects that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and other state education officials had criticized.
In January, DeSantis said that the new course would be banned in Florida unless changes were made, arguing that a draft version of the course was “woke.”
Education officials claimed that the class, which had been in the making for nearly a decade, violated a recent state law dubbed the Stop WOKE Act. The legislation regulates public school instruction on race by banning critical race theory and any education that describes some groups as oppressed and others as privileged based on race or sex.
Democrats denounced DeSantis’ action as a political stunt and urged the College Board to maintain its principles.
According to reports, many historical topics like slavery largely remain intact from the previous draft. However, important contemporary issues like Black Lives Matter, affirmative action, queer studies, reparations, and intersectionality — all of which Florida leaders objected to — were removed from curriculum requirements and are no longer part of the AP exam.
Instead, those areas of study have been downgraded to be part of a list of options students can pursue for a mandatory research project. The College Board also added a new research project idea to that list that will certainly please the right: “Black conservatism.”
It has additionally been reported that the organization pulled names of multiple Black authors the state education officials had flagged as problematic, including many famous and pioneering Black scholars who wrote about critical race theory, the queer experience, and Black feminism.
The College Board defended itself against criticism in a press release announcing the changes, claiming that the process of developing the framework “has operated independently from political pressure.”
DeSantis’ Ongoing Culture War
DeSantis’ attempts to influence the national curriculum of an AP course are just his latest in a much broader effort to control what is and is not taught in public schools.
Just one day before the College Board announced the revised course, the governor outlined what The New York Times described as “his most aggressive swing yet at the education establishment.”
Specifically, he proposed a massive overhaul to higher education in the state that would defund and eliminate diversity and equity programs, mandate courses on Western civilization, and reduce tenure protections that are essential to ensure professors have freedom of expression.
Furthermore, the effects of another law DeSantis signed last year are now just beginning to materialize. The policy, which went into effect this July, requires every school book to be age-appropriate, “free of pornography,” and “suited to student needs.”
To follow those guidelines, school books have to be approved by a certified media specialist who has undergone specific training.
Notably, the law also states that teachers can be charged with third-degree felonies if they “knowingly or unknowingly” give students access to a book that the specialists say is harmful — meaning that they could face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Last month, the state education department clarified that the rule does not just apply to school libraries, but also to any books a teacher keeps in their classroom too.
Multiple outlets reported this week that records they obtained show at least two school districts have now directed teachers to either remove their books or hide them until review to avoid the possibility of going to jail.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press)
Biden Announces Plan to End COVID Emergency in May
The decision would drastically change the government’s long-standing pandemic response and shift Americans’ access to COVID-related services.
Emergency Declarations at an End
In a statement Monday, The White House announced that it would be ending the COVID national emergency and public health emergency declarations on May 11.
The move will entirely restructure the federal government’s response to the pandemic to treat it as endemic and upend policies that have been in place for the last three years. Although more than 500 people in the U.S. are still dying from COVID on average each day — which is around two times the number of daily deaths during a bad flu season — life has largely returned to normal.
Most Americans are vaccinated, and even President Joe Biden himself said the pandemic was “over” back in September. The new announcement comes in part as a response to resolutions Republicans brought to the House floor last week that would end the declarations immediately.
“An abrupt end to the emergency declarations would create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system — for states, for hospitals and doctors’ offices, and, most importantly, for tens of millions of Americans,” the White House argued.
Lapses in Coverage and Care
Federal officials decided that a phase-out would make more sense because the U.S. has come to rely on several systems and benefits under the emergencies.
One of the most significant changes that will have the biggest impact on Americans in their day-to-day lives is access to COVID tests, treatments, and vaccines that have been free throughout the pandemic.
Once the emergencies end, a very complex wave of changes will take place that differs from person to person depending on their insurance — or lack thereof — and even possibly what state they live in.
Currently, people with private health insurance or Medicare coverage have been allowed eight free COVID tests a month and insurers had to cover those tests, even if they were administered out of network.
Once the emergency ends, some Americans will have to pay out of pocket, as well as for antiviral COVID treatments like Paxlovid.
Notably, it has been reported that vaccines will still be included for all those people covered by both private and public insurance. That, however, may not be the case for those without insurance — a group that is also more likely to be the most affected by rising costs for tests and treatments.
Jen Kates, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told The Washington Post that when the emergency declarations end, states that opted to provide Medicaid coverage for tests, treatments, and shots will lose the federal funds that matched costs at 100%.
“To me, that’s the biggest issue for the general public to think about,” she said. “The uninsured and underinsured have no guaranteed access to covid vaccines, tests or treatments.”
When it comes to vaccines, those costs could be significant. Moderna and Pfizer have both said they might charge as much as $130 per dose of vaccine once the federal government stops paying and the shots are transitioned to the private market. That figure is nearly quadruple what federal offices have paid for the doses.
The shift to the private market could happen fairly soon, especially because Republicans have refused Biden’s request that they put billions of dollars towards additional free COVID testing and shots to extend those efforts.
There could also be a spike in the number of uninsured or underinsured Americans because the $1.7 trillion spending bill passed last year ends a rule that banned states from kicking people off Medicaid, leaving millions at risk of losing coverage.
Other Possible Outcomes
Ending the declarations could also set up a battle around immigration because the Biden administration has said the move will bring an end to Title 42 — the Trump-era public health measure that placed restrictions on border crossings and other migrant policies.
Biden has previously tried to cut the program, but the Supreme Court kept it in place. House Republicans rejected the White House’s claim that the program would be terminated, arguing it is not tied to the public health emergency.
Beyond that, the termination of the declarations would require health providers to make numerous adjustments because many of the flexibilities they were allowed in a number of areas would be cut.
As a result, the administration says a phase-out of those policies over the next few months is necessary, arguing that hospitals and nursing homes “will be plunged into chaos” if they are cut immediately. House Republicans, however, are insistent on moving forward their legislation that would do just that, though the Democratic-controlled Senate could block their proposals.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press)
Conservatives are Mad at “Woke” Xbox for Minor Climate-Related Updates
The fury comes after Xbox announced it was slightly altering existing consoles to better utilize and save energy.
Same War, New Battlefield
Mere days after M&M canceled their “spokescandies” due to backlash from the right, led largely by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, conservatives have found a new front for their ongoing culture war: Xbox.
Carlson spent months complaining that small character redesigns were “woke” because they made the animated anthropomorphized M&M’s — in his own words — “less sexy.” His campaign finally proved successful on Monday when the company announced it would be doing away with the spokescandies and replacing them with actress Maya Rudolph.
Conservatives, now facing a sudden dearth of non-issues to complain about, quickly found a new issue to rage against. Xbox announced in a blog post earlier this month that it is making minor updates to lower its environmental impact as part of an effort to reach Microsoft’s goal of being carbon-negative by 2030.
Now, instead of having an Xbox wake up to update games, apps, and software during random times of the night, it will do that at a time of night when a user’s local energy grid is generating the most power it can from renewable sources.
Xbox also said it would automatically update some older consoles to a power-saving mode that aims to reduce electricity consumption when it is turned off — a feature that is already the default on newer consoles.
According to The Verge, the only difference for users is that an Xbox in power-saving mode takes around 15 seconds to boot up instead of doing so immediately as the console does in “sleep” mode. The change is a small price to pay for what the outlet described as “significant” energy savings.
Xbox Under Fire
To many leading conservative voices, the minimal shifts were just another example of “woke” culture.
While discussing M&M’s spokescandies Tuesday morning, “Fox and Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt brought up Xbox’s new changes with Fox radio host Jimmy Failla.
“So Xbox has also announced that they’re going woke too, you know, because of climate change,” Earhardt said.
“I mean, it’s crazy what they’re doing, but we understand what this is. It’s not that it’s actually going to offset emissions, okay — the level of reduction is infinitesimal,” Failla claimed, without evidence. “But they’re trying to recruit your kids into climate politics at an earlier age; make them climate conscious now.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think of that — you’re right, they’re going after the children,” Earhardt agreed, despite the fact that internal data from Microsoft shows just around 10% of Xbox owners are under the age of 18.
Other prominent conservatives also did their part to bait Americans into anger on social media, including America’s Foundation, which posted a tweet stating that “the woke brigade is after video games.”
The post linked an article from the right-wing website TheBlaze, which asserted that “Xbox will force gamers to power down to fight climate change.” That, however, is false — Xbox has said users can switch back and change the settings any time they want
Still, top lawmakers continued to share the article and spread its false claims, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.).
“First gas stoves, then your coffee, now they’re gunning for your Xbox,” he wrote in the post, which was flagged by Twitter and given an “added context” warning.
The same warning, however, was not placed in a very similar post by Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Tx.), who also shared the article.
“They want to take your guns. They want to take your gas stoves. And now they want to take your Xbox. What’s next?” he wrote.