Only hours away from the start of the prime time televised Watergate January 6 Committee hearings (drinking game to come in a separate post) under the chairmanship of Sam Ervin Bennie Thompson (who?), we have news out of the Washington Post about the latest episode from the Millennial Power Struggle.
This requires a preface. One of my favorite Monty Python sketches from 50 years ago ran with the idea of a “joke that killed”—a one-liner that was literally so deadly that it was classified, broken up into parts for safe handling, weaponized, translated into German, and used to win one of the world wars. (Posted at the end here if you want to see it.)
But in the 21st century, as we know well by now, it is possible for a joke to kill your career.
Some time last week the Washington Post‘s Dave Weigel, a center-left reporter who wrote a pretty good book about progressive rock (so I have a soft sport for him, even if he’s whacked at me a couple times), retweeted a joke by YouTuber Cam Harless. Here it is:
As you can see from the “Likes,” a lot of readers thought it was pretty funny, but we live in the age of That’s Not Funny (especially in elite newsrooms), and although Weigel took down the retweet and apologized, it was not enough for WaPo reporter Felicia Sonmez, who, as has widely been observed in the past week, really does sound like one half of this joke, as well as someone who would indeed boil your pet bunny. The Post suspended Weigel for a month without pay (at least Ilya Shaprio got paid while he was on leave from Georgetown Law during their sham investigation).
But Sonmez didn’t let up, flaying the Washington Post on Twitter and attacking other Post staffers, decrying the fact that most of the people sticking up for the “collegiality” of the Post newsroom were “white males.” I’ll spare you all the details of what even Vanity Fair is calling a “clusterf— social media meltdown.” (Read the whole thing is you want full immersion in the junior high school that is the Post newsroom and Twitterverse.)
This afternoon the Post fired Sonmez. The New York Times reports:
“In an emailed termination letter, which was viewed by The New York Times, Ms. Sonmez was told that The Post was ending her employment, effective immediately, ‘for misconduct that includes insubordination, maligning your co-workers online and violating The Post’s standards on workplace collegiality and inclusivity.’ The email also said Ms. Sonmez’s ‘public attempts to question the motives of your co-journalists” undermined The Post’s reputation. We cannot allow you to continue to work as a journalist representing The Washington Post,’ the letter said.”
Lots of people have been saying all week, “Are there no adults in charge at the Post?”, but this step is still surprising, as she has sued the Post before for supposedly creating a “hostile work environment” (we covered the suit here last year) but the suit was so ludicrous that the judge dismissed it “with prejudice,” which meant she couldn’t refile it in a different form, though her lawyer said she’d appeal anyway. No one doubts that she’ll sue again now for wrongful termination, but good luck with that.
Look for her to land at Columbia Journalism School, down the hall from Columbia Law’s likely new professor Chesa Boudin. Meanwhile, the next question is whether the Post will reinstate Weigel more quickly.