The joke heard round the world of the woke

A reporter at The Washington Post rants for days on end over an off-color joke, attacking her colleagues and the company she works for in public, and playing the victim card while another is suspended without pay for a quickly deleted retweet followed by a prompt apology.  How long can any institution last when the inmates run the asylum?

We used to say that sometimes a joke is just a joke.  It might be silly.  It might be stupid.  It could even be a little tasteless or offensive, but ultimately it remains nothing more than a joke and, as such, there’s no reason to get worked up over it.  This is likely what The Washington Posts’ Dave Weigel was thinking to himself when he retweeted a post from comedian Cam Harless, which itself recycled an old joke. “Every girl is bi,” it said. “You just have to figure out if it’s polar or sexual.”  Of course,  Mr. Weigel works in the heart of the woke swamp that is Washington, DC, in an organization dominated by wokesters, where the inmates seem to run the asylum, and he quickly realized the error of his ways in what must’ve been a wash of cold sweat.  One of those, oh, shit moments when your heart sinks as you realize you hit send too soon, but it’s too late to take it back.  Still, he attempted to cover his tracks by deleting the original retweet and posting an apology.  “I just removed a retweet of an offensive joke. I apologize and did not mean to cause any harm,” he said, but, perhaps needless to say, the tweet had already been seen and screen captured for ignominious posterity, nor was the apology accepted.  Instead, a female colleague of Mr. Weigel’s, fellow reporter Felicia Sonmez, saw the screen capture and was necessarily offended.

Apparently,  a hard-nosed reporter, Ms. Sonmez is not, for she took to twitter as well, saying “Fantastic to work at a news outlet where retweets like this are allowed.”  It’s worth pausing here for a moment to consider her position beyond being rather unnecessarily offended in the first place.  Ms. Sonmez instinct is not to speak to Mr. Weigel privately to voice her concerns, nor is it to comment on his Twitter account, perhaps saying something like, “I appreciate the apology, but I’m sure many people found the joke offensive.”  It’s not even to share it with her supervisor directly and explain why she finds it inappropriate.  These used to be the sort of actions a normal person would take in a similar situation, assuming they were deeply offended or made uncomfortable by something in the workplace.  Ms. Sonmez doesn’t consider herself normal, however, or bound by any of the normal protocols most people in the private sector have to follow.  Instead, she immediately goes public with the express intention of shaming her own employer, suggesting that The Washington Post is supposed to police the Twitter feeds of all employees and personally approve each and every post.  In other words, the onus for Mr. Weigel’s retweet falls on the Post and the Post alone.  They have “allowed” him to behave that way, even though Ms. Sonmez is surely aware they had absolutely nothing to do with the original tweet.  This wasn’t sent by an official account or on any official business of the paper.  It wasn’t appended to any headline or part of any story.  If the act was offensive in anyway, the responsibility clearly falls directly on Mr. Weigel, and yet she leads with what her place of business should allow, clearly suggesting that Mr. Bezos’ flagship newspaper isn’t nearly woke enough for her taste.  The problem, you see, is not Mr. Weigel, but the institution itself.

Ms. Sonmez wasn’t nearly finished in her crusade against the retrograde powers that be.  She soon took to the company’s internal Slack channel to confront Mr. Weigel directly, though once again not privately.  Instead, she tagged him in a feed and wrote, “I’m sorry but what is this?”  Around the same time, another colleague, Jose Del Real came to Mr. Weigel’s defense on Twitter, claiming Ms. Sonmez was engaging in the “repeated and targeted public harassment of a colleague” and that she was “rallying the internet to attack [Weigel] for a mistake,” which of course she was most definitely doing.  Ms. Sonmez remained immune to this constructive and obvious criticism, however, striking back with an attack on Mr. Del Real’s character for stating the obvious.  “If you are more outraged over the fact that I pointed out a sexist tweet than over the sexism itself… all I can say is that speaks volumes about your own priorities,” she insisted.  At this point, Mr. Del Real likely realized he was treading on dangerous ground in the world of the woke, and attempted to beg off by saying “fighting sexism and misogyny matters deeply to me,” but then he added “Entirely separately, I hope you reconsider the cruelty you regularly unleash against colleagues.”  Mr. Del Real deactivated his Twitter account shortly thereafter, but Ms. Sonmez had more to say.  This time she insisted her colleague had mounted a “public attack” on her, without any irony given she precipitated the mess by attacking her own colleague and her employer over a deleted tweet.

Then, she did what wokesters always do in this predicament:  She played the victim card, writing,  “When women stand up for themselves, some people respond with even more vitriol. Last night, a Post colleague publicly attacked me for calling out another colleague’s sexist tweet,” she said. “He first hid any replies objecting to his attacks, and now seems to have deleted his account.” This prompted Mr. Del Real to reactivate this account and post a multipart thread on the matter.  “In hopes of de-escalating, I temporarily deactivated my account, amid a barrage of online abuse directed by one person but carried out by an eager mob. The one-sided attacks continued even after I stopped engaging. I know the old adage: Hurt people hurt people.”  He continued, “In such a situation, it is difficult to find the line between sympathizing and challenging with compassion. My instinct is to defend myself. But I talk a big game about kindness, and I’m going to try to practice some of that now by simply moving on and not engaging.”  Ms. Sonmez, however, persisted, promptly claimed Mr. Del Real didn’t live up to his own standards, citing “an email from him accusing” her of fostering a ‘toxic workplace.’”  Mr. Del Real ultimately responded by blocking his own colleague.

At this point, The Washington Post felt the need to get directly involved given these exchanged were occurring in public and garnering thousands of retweets on their own.  Executive Editor Sally Buzbee emailed the newsroom on Sunday night with a rather anodyne message.  She did not name names or publicly call anyone out.  Instead, she said, “We expect the staff to treat each other with respect and kindness both in the newsroom and online. We are a collegial and creative newsroom doing an astonishing amount of important and groundbreaking journalism.”  Ms. Buzbee even attempted to include a peon to wokeness, claiming, “The Washington Post is committed to an inclusive and respectful environment free of harassment, discrimination or bias of any sort” before recommending the obvious, “When issues arise, please raise them with leadership or human resources and we will address them promptly and firmly.” In any sane world, a personal message from your boss to knock it off would have ended the spat immediately, but the Post is no longer sane. Instead, Ms. Buzbee was dragged into the social media battle after being called out directly by Ms. Somnez, who claimed she’d asked her for help on her crusade.  “Retaliation against a colleague for speaking out against sexism is never okay. I hope Washington Post leaders treat this as the serious issue that it is.”  As of yesterday, Ms. Sonmez had not relented in the least, posting dozens of times about the incident on her Twitter feed, literally multiple tweets per hour almost 5 days later to the point where I wonder if she actually writes any content for the paper.

Incredibly, she herself insisted this isn’t normal, once again without any irony given how far from normal it is for a supposedly high powered reporter to be carrying on like a jilted middle school student.  Regardless, The Washington Post apparently felt the pressure for whatever reason, calling Mr. Weigel’s rather minor transgression “reprehensible” and suspending him for 30 days without pay despite Ms. Sonmez’s poor behavior. Meanwhile, conservative media took the public argument as an opportunity to dig into her past with the paper, and found that this isn’t her first public debacle.  Immediately after Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash in 2020, Ms. Sonmez inserted herself into the conversation by accusing the deceased of being a rapist when she retweeted a 2016 report on a 2003 allegation.  The great majority of the public, still reeling from the loss of the basketball legend before the body was even in the ground, took offense and vented their ire.  Rather than admitting the tweet was in poor taste given the circumstances, Ms. Sonmez insisted it was important to remember Mr. Bryant’s entire legacy and used it as an opportunity to lecture the public on the pressure women face to stay quiet.

Once again, she didn’t stop there. Ms. Sonmez ultimately decided it was appropriate to dox some of the people criticizing her, posting their private information publicly and generating yet another round of outrage. The Washington Post placed her on leave after the incident, partially for her own protection given the rabid public response to her actions, during which she was defended by none other than Mr. Weigel who signed a letter in support of her.  The paper also chose to limit Ms. Sonmez’s role, no longer allowing her to cover topics related to sexual assault.  Ms. Sonmez claims to be a survivor herself and the paper felt it was a conflict of interest. They had previously not allowed her to cover the 2018 Brett Kavanagh confirmation hearings for the same reason as well. She promptly responded by suing the newspaper for the limitation, claiming she suffered “economic loss, humiliation, embarrassment, mental and emotional distress, and the deprivation of her rights to equal employment opportunities.”  “At various times, Ms. Sonmez became severely depressed, developed intense anxiety and received treatment from therapists and psychiatrists who she continues to see today,” the lawsuit continued, also noting that she was prescribed antidepressant medication. The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed and yet Ms. Sonmez decided to continue at the Post for rather inexplicable reasons after her dramatic accusations where she apparently feels the need to rant to this day.  To be sure, she certainly has her fair share of supporters.  Her Twitter feed is filled with people who seem to believe Ms. Sonmez is the lone woman standing bravely on the ramparts, fighting against a looming misogynistic dystopia that she and she alone can prevent. 

Back in the real world, however, the episode is revealing for any number of sobering reasons outside the comedic value of watching an internecine food fight among the anointed chattering classes. First, one wonders why Ms. Sonmez appears to think she’s so incredibly special and important that the rules most of us live by don’t apply to her.  What do you think your employer would do if you took to Twitter and publicly shamed them, personally calling out your boss, attacking another colleague, and then ranting about it for days after you’d sued them unsuccessfully?  Precisely what gives her the unique ability to behave in such a manner when the rest of us would be fired on the spot and likely never work again?  Throughout her ranting, Ms. Somnez frequently refers to a “two-tiered” system at The Washington Post where “star” reporters, presumably like Mr. Weigel, are given preferential treatment, but how else would you describe a person who sues their employer and then mercilessly attacks them afterwards in public, and still expects to keep their job?  I don’t know about you, but this is not the “tier” I’m on at work, I can assure you of that. Second, one has to ask, how long can an organization this dysfunctional possibly survive?  Places of business require some level of respect among colleagues, and some commitment to following basic protocols like reporting workplace issues to your supervisor or HR.

Instead, Ms. Sonmez violated that basic trust, and appears to believe she should be rewarded for it.  In her mind, she’s the one who’s persecuted, though she rains down fire on any colleague that dares to disagree while shredding the fabric that knits a community of employees together.  This isn’t a spat among high school students at a summer job at the local swim club.  The Washington Post is one of the premiere journalistic organizations in the world.  Most reporters would sell an organ for a spot on their news desk, and yet Ms. Sonmez and others are happy to trash their own house, literally biting the hand that feeds them over any slight, followed by carrying on about it for days on end. Lastly, it’s impossible to think that society writ large can function for long in this manner before devolving into the same level of dysfunction.  Ms. Sonmez holds a high-powered position at an internationally recognized institution.  Rather than being pleased with her lot in life and proud of her accomplishments, she’s  infuriated by the most minor offenses, then behaves like a child and brags about it for the world to see, as if this is the way adults in a functioning society are supposed to act when confronted by an off color joke, much less one that was promptly deleted and an apology issues.  The world would shut down if even a small percentage of individuals behaved in this way.  She should be fired immediately and publicly as an example for all of what not to do, but it’s not going to happen.  The woke will let this continue until dysfunction is indistinguishable from function.  This is what happens when the inmates run the asylum, and make no mistake The Washington Post is officially an asylum where a joke is never just a joke.

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