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Washington Post reinstates reporter placed on leave over Kobe Bryant rape allegation tweet

The Washington Post has reinstated Felicia Sonmez, a national political reporter who had been placed on administrative leave after tweeting about the rape allegation against Kobe Bryant in the wake of the NBA legend's death. The reinstatement comes after the newspaper faced harsh internal and external backlash over the suspension.

"After conducting an internal review, we have determined that, while we consider Felicia's tweets ill-timed, she was not in clear and direct violation of our social media policy," managing editor Tracy Grant said in a statement sent to CBS News. 

"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 added. "We consistently urge restraint, which is particularly important when there are tragic deaths. We regret having spoken publicly about a personnel matter."

Sonmez tweeted her reaction:

"I believe the Washington Post readers and employees, including myself, deserve to hear directly from Marty Baron on the newspaper's handling of this matter," Somnez said.

"Washington Post journalists endeavor to live up to the paper's mission statement, which states, 'The newspaper shall tell ALL the truth so far as it can learn it, concerning the important affairs of America and the world.' My suspension, and Mr. Baron's Jan. 26 email warning me that my tweets about a matter of public record were 'hurting this institution,' have unfortunately sown confusion about the depth of managements commitment to this goal.

"I hope Washington Post newsroom leaders will not only prioritize their employees' safety in the face of threats of physical harm but also ensure that no journalist will be punished for speaking the truth." 

The Washington Post Guild said it's "disappointed that the Post's statement did not include an apology to Felicia."

The controversy began Sunday, as the nation was reacting to Bryant's unexpected death in a helicopter crash at the age of 41. In the hours after Bryant's death, Sonmez tweeted a link to a 2016 article, written by somebody else, recapping a rape allegation against the former Los Angeles Laker with the headline: "Kobe Bryant's Disturbing Rape Case: The DNA Evidence, the Accuser's Story, and the Half-Confession." Her tweet and several followups have since been deleted. 

After receiving what she described as "thousands" of abusive messages and death threats, including a post that showed her address, Sonmez said she checked into a hotel due to concerns about her safety. There, she told the Post's Erik Wemple, she was informed by managing editor Tracy Grant that she was being placed on administrative leave. 

"National political reporter Felicia 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 newspaper said in a statement Monday. "The tweets displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues." 

The decision to place Sonmez on leave sparked outrage online and among Somnez's colleagues. The Washington Post Guild came out in her defense, gathering what the group said was more than 300 signatures from staffers protesting the decision. 

"Instead of protecting and supporting a reporter in the face of abuse, The Post placed her on administrative leave while newsroom leaders review whether she violated the social media policy," the Guild wrote in a statement on Monday. "Felicia had to leave her home out of fear for her safety and has gotten insufficient guidance from the Post on how to protect herself."

"We urge The Post to immediately provide Felicia with a security detail and take whatever other steps are necessary to ensure her safety, as it has done in the past when other reporters were subject to threats," the Guild added. "The company should issue a statement condemning abuse of its reporters, allow Felicia to return to work, rescind whatever sanctions have been imposed and provide her with any resources she may request as she navigates this traumatic experience."

When asked Tuesday if the Post had provided Sonmez with any resources to help her handle the threats of violence, the spokesperson did not respond. 

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