The Washington Post Meltdown Is Not Helping the Public Perception of Media

Take the fight offline comrades

(Original Caption) Washington, D. C.: Exterior of The Washington Post. (Photo by James Leynse/Corbis...
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Poster's disease

The Washington Post’s multi-day public feud over a tweet about whether all girls are “bi” continues to trudge bi-polarly on. For those keeping track, it is now day five. For those unfamiliar, you can find our first recap here.

The gist is that over the weekend, Post political reporter Dave Weigel retweeted a mid joke, which his colleague, Felicia Sonmez, then called out on Twitter. Some important context here: Sonmez has a long history of being treated badly by her workplace; she was once suspended for a tweet that, while factual, was deemed poorly timed, and also once sued them for discrimination (it was dismissed with prejudice). Other colleagues weighed in. Weigel apologized and un-retweeted the tweet. The Post responded with a staff-wide memo encouraging workplace kindness, then suspended Weigel for a month without pay.

That all happened by or before Monday. In the days since, the drama has only gotten pettier and the tweets less concise. Sonmez in particular has written several lengthy threads. One details the uneven standards of the Post’s social media policy. Another sketches her public back-and-forth with another Post reporter, Jose A. Del Real, who wrote some fairly reasonable, if unsolicited, tweets about trying to keep workplace issues internal. Del Real allegedly ended up blocking Sonmez on Tuesday. A third defends Sonmez’s name-searching herself on Twitter as a trauma response. There are also dozens, if not hundreds, of retweets, replies, and side fights with other staffers. Among the latter: a sole tweet from Post White House reporter Lisa Rein, replying to one of Sonmez’s threads, that read “please stop.”

All this culminated in a second terse memo from Post executive editor Sally Buzbee Tuesday night, warning staff against “attacking colleagues either face to face or online.” But she did not, apparently, get the final word. According to Politico’s Alex Thompson, another staffer responded to the newsroom-wide message, asking whether Rein (of “please stop” infamy) had not violated the social media policies as well. “It is unjust, that our newsroom is failing to acknowledge and allowing the type of behavior [sic],” she wrote. As a reminder, this was the tweet in question:

There are no winners here: Weigel should be mocked for retweeting a joke so boilerplate it could have been lifted from a Bill Maher writing packet. Sonmez has good reason to be furious with the Post, but endlessly documenting intra-workplace feuds is not the investigative journalism she evidently thinks it is. Del Real made the obvious point — take this to H.R. — but ultimately, his Twitter audience is not H.R., and he should have taken his own advice. The Post set them all up by failing to instate clear social media rules and thus incentivizing snitching, and by making the wrong managerial choice at nearly every opportunity. I am perhaps the biggest loser, as this morning I read former Grover Norquist intern Josh Barro’s take on the situation and thought: “He has a point.”

But whatever is going on at the Post, it is not great PR for the industry as a whole. A good chunk of the country already sees journalists as a bunch of sniveling high school students fighting over cafeteria real estate. No need to do the work for them. Maybe Dean Baquet was onto something.