Opinion

WaPo Suspension Of Weigel And Firing Of Sonmez Highlights The Tawdry Manners Of Elite Media

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It’s the kind of locker room-level joke you might expect to see on a bumper sticker gracing the the back of a mud-spattered Ford F-150 or emblazoned across t-shirts sold at a truck stop. 

“Every girl is bi. You just have to figure out if it’s polar or sexual.”

Sexist? Sure. Tasteless? Absolutely. Offensive? Sort of. It depends on your level of sensitivity for banal b-words-be-crazy jokes.

Personally, mine is pretty high. And my reaction to this one would have depended on the context. If a male colleague made the crack in the middle of a work meeting, I probably would have taken umbrage and might have even made brief mention of it to H.R., if he wasn’t a first-time offender. Ditto if he’d slurred it at me during the office Christmas party. But a retweet of someone else’s corny joke on a social media platform where smirking frogs and clown emojis pass for political commentary? I would have rolled my eyes and moved on. I might, depending on how well I knew the sense of humor of the retweeter and how meta his intent, have even snickered. What I can’t imagine doing, under any circumstances, is starting a public fight involving my employer.

But a funny thing has happened in media in the last five or so years. The more esteemed the outlet once was, the more tawdry its behavior before the reading public today.

The New York Times is a prime example. The Gray Lady has now seen so many intramural Twitter dust-ups it’s become old hat. There was the time the reporting staff attacked the editorial staff en masse over an op-ed from Senator Tom Cotton. Or the time reporters criticized management for not disciplining science reporter Don McNeil severely enough for once, nowhere near their hearing, using a racial slur in an explanatory fashion while chaperoning a group of students.

The virtual roughhousing eventually became frequent enough that two months ago the outlet had to issue a new social media policy directing it’s journalists to avoid “tweets or subtweets that attack, criticize or undermine the work of your colleagues.” This, Executive editor Dean Baquet had to explain to a staff of presumed adults, “undercuts the reputation of The Times as well as our efforts to foster a culture of inclusion and trust.”

That brings us to the recent antics at the Washington Post, where political reporter Felicia Sonmez took to Twitter to crowdsource sympathy over having to share cubicle space with someone who would find the above-mentioned joke funny.

“Fantastic to work at a news outlet where retweets like this are allowed!” she said passive-aggressively of Dave Weigel, who is not only her colleague but shares her beat as a political reporter, so likely occupies similar geographical space in the newsroom. One wonders why she couldn’t have just leaned over and mentioned her irritation to him before broadcasting it to the world.

Before even so much as a mote of dust had cleared on that showdown, a new contender entered the fray when features writer Jose A. Del Real took Sonmez to task for taking Weigel to task.

“Felicia, we all mess up from time to time,” he noted, “Engaging in repeated and targeted public harassment of a colleague is neither a good look nor is it particularly effective. It turns the language of inclusivity into clout chasing and bullying. I don’t think this is appropriate.” Of course, the fact that Del Real himself, accurate though he was, was inappropriately using social media to tell a coworker that her social media critique of another staffer was inappropriate was lost on him.

And it stayed lost as the spat erupted into a volley of tweets that ended with Del Real blocking Sonmez and Sonmez demanding her employers step in, carping, “It’s hard for me to understand why the Washington Post hasn’t done anything about these tweets”—an ironic query if ever there was one.

Days having now passed, Sonmez has racked up literally hundreds of tweets, retweets, and replies on the matter and, as of this writing, still shows no signs of stopping. Put succinctly, there isn’t a Real Housewife in any city showing less emotional restraint than the denizens of America’s most esteemed newsrooms these days.

Of course, why would Sonmez show any, when each escalating attack on her male coworkers has been received by cheering attaboys from many of the Washington Post’s other female staffers? And clearly she knows no serious reprimands will be directed her way.

The leadership at these papers have only themselves to blame for their employees’ public displays of disaffection. Again and again, they have taught the disgruntled that social media brawling with coworkers will be rewarded.

New York Times opinion editor James Bennet was ousted over the Cotton essay. So was McNeil. Despite the fact that Weigel quickly apologized for his mildly cringey retweet, Sonmez’s tirade paid off — he’s currently sitting in the penalty box for a month of unpaid leave.

Eventually, after days on end of Sonmez’s online railing, Post editors regained their heads and realized that the social media brawls between staffers would likely continue if they allowed Sonmez’s brazenness – that went on for nearly a week – to go unaddressed. They announced on Thursday that they had fired her. But the damage to the paper’s reputation had already been done.

It’s hard to understand a disciplinary code that was at first inclined to find a cheesy one-liner with no intended offense that’s immediately followed by a mea culpa worthy of greater punishment than a days-long, unhinged torrent of venom aimed squarely at the people one sees at work every day.

But then again, I say that as someone who expressed my own thoughts on l’affaire du Weigel by retweeting this: “Dave Wiegel tweeted a joke about how women are crazy and boy did those gals prove him wrong.”

I guess I’ll find out on Twitter how my colleagues feel about it.

The opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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