Washington Post editor Martin Baron announced he would retire at the end of February, and he was touted as a "news giant" who was "fearless." But in an exit interview of sorts with The New Yorker, Baron rushed into "no comment" mode when Isaac Chotiner asked about a social-media controversy with reporter Felicia Sonmez.
One of your paper’s reporters, Felicia Sonmez, was suspended after tweeting a story from the Daily Beast about the sexual-assault allegations against Kobe Bryant. And you wrote her an e-mail. You said, “Felicia, A real lack of judgment to tweet this. Please stop. You’re hurting the institution.” Why did you think that that was a mistake? And why is using social media like that something that bothers you?
That’s a personnel issue. I just can’t get into it.
Do you want to talk more broadly about why tweeting something like that would be inappropriate?
I’m not going to talk specifically about that case or the circumstances of it. If you want to ask me questions about social media, I can talk about social media. But I’m not going to talk about that case or any other case.
I was going to ask whether it was true that she can’t write about issues of sexual assault after detailing her own allegations of being assaulted.
Just not going to get into it.
They enforced the same lockdown at the paper a year ago, when their own media columnist Erik Wemple came to Sonmez's defense, but then came the PR line. "The Erik Wemple Blog asked Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti which social-media guidelines Sonmez may have violated. Coratti replied that the company wasn’t saying anything outside of its statement." Obviously, the silence continues.
As an editor who was hailed for forcing out Edward Snowden's NSA-surveillance documents and a large trove of "Afghanistan papers," isn't it a little funny that Baron won't talk about some reporter tweets? He can get into everyone else's business, but don't press him about his?
Chotiner also asked about the Post's decision not to run a story in 2019 about the sex harassment allegations against then-60 Minutes executive prodder Jeff Fager. Irin Carmon charged the paper with a "corrupt arrangement" because 60 Minutes and The Washington Post had a reporting partnership. He quoted Carmon:
“But I did think it was easier for even the most well-meaning editor to empathize with a newsroom leader, a fellow-boss with potentially discontented underlings. It’s easier for a lot of us to believe that a man’s career matters more than the hypothetical losses of the women he might have harmed.” How do you respond to that and feel about that story?
I think that story was a misportrayal of what actually transpired. I’m not sure that I can go into great detail here about it, but it’s just not the case.
Baron claimed he barely knew Fager. "I have no friendship with Jeff Fager. I have no relationship with him. We’ve talked a couple of times—that’s about it." They had just exposed 60 Minutes star Charlie Rose, so you could either say this proves they weren't being overly nice to CBS, or you could say maybe one CBS expose was enough at that time. When the Post is trying to unearth a story that's not internal, they wouldn't just accept this company line. But they want everyone else to when they're the subject of the story.