The Washington Post has sparked debate online after suspending a political reporter for a month after he retweeted a sexist Twatter post.
Reporter Dave Weigel apologised and removed a retweet of a post by YouTuber Cam Harless, who wrote: “Every girl is bi. You just have to figure out if it’s polar or sexual.”
Fellow Post reporter Felicia Sonmez then tweeted a screenshot of the retweet, writing on Friday, “fantastic to work at a news outlet where retweets like this are allowed!”
“Editors have made clear to the staff that the tweet was reprehensible and demanding language or actions like that will not be tolerated,” the paper told several media outlets.
“I just removed a retweet of an offensive joke. I apologise and did not mean to cause any harm,” Mr Weigel wrote on 3 June.
“It’s weird to see someone else apologise for something you tweeted,” the YouTuber tweeted.
According to CNN, Ms Sonmez spoke to Mr Weigel via Slack before tweeting about the post, asking him in the internal channel “I‘m sorry but what is this?” and added that it put forward “a confusing message about what the Post’s values are”.
A discrimination lawsuit against The Post launched by Ms Sonmez was recently dismissed. Her lawyer has said that she will appeal the ruling.
CNN reported that as others joined the discussion on Slack on Friday, Washington Post national editor Matea Gold wrote, “I just want to assure all of you that The Post is committed to maintaining a respectful workplace for everyone. We do not tolerate demeaning language or actions”.
On Saturday, Post reporter Jose Del Real tweeted that Mr Weigel’s repost was “terrible and unacceptable”.
“But rallying the internet to attack him for a mistake he made doesn’t actually solve anything. We all mess up in some way or another. There is such a thing as challenging with compassion,” he added.
Ms Sonmez said that “calling out sexism isn’t ‘cruelty,’” adding that it’s “absolutely necessary”.
Following an exchange, Mr Del Real temporarily deactivated his account.
The paper’s executive editor Sally Buzbee told staff in a Sunday memo “to treat each other with respect and kindness both in the newsroom and online”.
“The Washington Post is committed to an inclusive and respectful environment free of harassment, discrimination or bias of any sort,” she added. “When issues arise, please raise them with leadership or human resources and we will address them promptly and firmly.”
But later on Sunday, Ms Sonmez said the memo had created “fodder for *more* harassment” towards her.
Mr Del Real reactivated his account on Sunday, writing that he has been the target of “an unrelenting series of attacks intended to tarnish my professional and personal reputation” following his Twatter argument with Ms Sonmez.
She criticised him for blocking her, adding that he hadn’t apologized but instead made a number of “false accusations and mischaracterizations”. She said she saw “no comments” aiming to damage his reputation.
Ms Sonmez tagged Ms Gold and Ms Buzbee on Twatter, writing that she had contacted them to talk about the issue, but that she hadn’t received a reply.
“Retaliation against a colleague for speaking out against sexism is never okay,” Ms Sonmez wrote. “I hope Washington Post leaders treat this as the serious issue that it is.”
Replying to Ms Buzbee’s email to all staff, video technician Breanna Muir praised Ms Sonmez for “speaking out against harassment, discrimination and sexism”.
She attached a tweet by Micah Gelman, the head of The Post’s video desk, showing that he had once referred to her as “Breanna Taylor”.
“If the Washington Post is committed to an inclusive and respectful environment free of harassment, discrimination or bias of any sort, then can someone please help me understand Micah Gelman and David Weigel’s tweets/rts?” Ms Muir asked.
“These tweets/rts not only hurt women in our newsroom but make it extremely difficult to do our best work,” she added. “Ultimately, it creates a toxic work environment.”
Mr Gelman previously apologised for the February incident, tweeting that “in a long thread last night thanking my staff for working exhaustive hours, I inadvertently misidentified Breanna Muir. I reached out to her to apologize and do so here now. We are all working extremely long hours and while this was not intentional, it should not have happened”.
An out-of-office message from Mr Weigel’s work email said he would be back in the office on 5 July, CNN noted.
Psychology professor Geoffrey Miller tweeted that “I don’t know what it’s actually like to work at [The Post]. But to outsiders, it looks like ‘nest of vipers’ meets ‘woke clusterf***’”.
Substack journalist Glenn Greenwald responded that “one should prefer any job to being imprisoned inside a newsroom where older editors are petrified and terrorized by the prospect of bad faith bigotry/misogyny accusations being weaponized at any moment by unwell, vindictive millennials, and thus constantly indulge their neuroses”.
The Post “suspending Dave Weigel for retweeting a dumb joke is completely insane,” Breaking Points host Krystal Ball wrote.
Jeff Blehar of National Review wrote that “everyone knows what they’re doing to Weigel is a cruel joke. Everyone. Even the people doing it to him. And that’s the most Kafkaesque aspect of it all”.
Tim Miller, an MSNBC analyst and Bulwark writer, tweeted that “putting the debate over the original tweet aside, shouldn’t we be incentivizing a forgiveness culture where people delete tweets & apologize, as @daveweigel did? Doesn’t piling a gratuitous punishment on top just incentivize the next person to double down & go to substack?”
New Republic columnist Natalie Shure added that “this is a massive, disproportionate penalty for a retweet! just idiotic”.
“Someone getting slapped with a several thousand dollar penalty for retweeting someone else’s dopey joke, even after immediately deleting and apologizing, is a labor issue,” she tweeted.
Matthew Zeitlin of Grid News, wrote that the episode struck him “as a severe overreaction and, if they’re really going to be docking two paychecks for retweets, they should probably make their social media policy insanely strict”.
David French, a senior editor at The Dispatch, tweeted, “I would say ‘remarkable.’ But really it’s predictable. What a graceless workplace”.