When the Washington Post Journalist Dave Weigel retweeted an offensive misogynistic joke last Friday (June 3), he unleashed a firestorm of criticism, inside and outside the newsroom. Weigel quickly un-tweeted the offending post and apologized, but it was too late. On Monday, he was suspended without pay for a month.
It’s hard to look at Weigel’s suspension and not see it fundamentally as a case of a company throwing a staff member under the bus in an attempt to crush an unpleasant story. The JobThe reaction should not be taken as an example of “cancel culture” or “the woke mob”. Weigel was suspended not because socially liberal Twitter users have disproportionate power, but because the newspaper, owned by Jeff Bezos, is trying to stifle bad news and blame it all on one of its collaborators.
While Weigel’s actions were distasteful, even deserving of punishment under the JobUnder Reuters’ social media policy, which tells reporters to “refrain” from tweets that could “objectively be perceived” as sexist, his suspension is excessive. But for the Jobwhen the alternative is to manage its internal culture and ensure there is a consistent approach to staff use of social media, it is far better to sweep the issue under the rug for a month.
Not that it seems to have worked. Friday Felicia Sonmez, a Job journalist, tweeted that it was “Fantastic to work in a medium where retweets like this are allowed!” – elevating what would likely have been an unpleasant but largely forgotten event into a public relations disaster. Since then, Sonmez, who has had her own struggles with the newspaper’s internal culture, has spent the past five days relentlessly criticizing her employer and colleagues on Twitter, calling out a toxic workplace and unfairly enforced standards.
In January 2020, when Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash, Sonmez was placed on administrative leave for tweeting, hours after the basketball player’s death, about allegations that he assaulted a woman. It was one of the most ridiculous and cowardly acts of Jobmanagement. But by suspending Sonmez simply for reporting the verifiable, and barely unknown, fact that Bryant was charged on Job perhaps set a precedent that he felt he had to honour.
In the case of Weigel, the JobThe largely inconsistent response to the commotion didn’t help. At first, the newspaper seemed to ignore what was going on, perhaps hoping it would go away. When that became impossible, editors emailed internally to try to calm things down. They were quickly disclosed. Only after all this Job suspend Weigel.
The punishment is so disproportionate to the crime that it is beyond comprehension. Although Weigel’s behavior may have violated internal policies, the message sent by the delay in the sanction makes it clear that the newspaper is willing to throw every newsroom worker under the bus to preserve its brand. The JobThe actions of seem calculated to cover its back at the expense of one of its journalists. It is also a question of manpower; the newsroom shouldn’t pass up this slide.
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The implications go beyond a suspension. A calculated gesture on the part of the Job diverting anger to an employee rather than tackling newsroom culture and the limits of social media policies will pay off. It might not kill the story as quickly as Job would like, but it has the advantage of sending a clear message to staff members – that the boss has the power.
[See also: There’s a problem with university culture – but it isn’t the students]