Some Washington Post Editors Maybe Should Stop Tweeting About Sexual Assault

A top Washington Post editor's tweet about NFL player Ben Roethlisberger threw gasoline on an already-sparking controversy.
The building of the Washington Post newspaper headquarter is seen on K Street in Washington DC on May 16, 2019.​
The building of the Washington Post newspaper headquarter is seen on K Street in Washington DC on May 16, 2019. (Photo by ERIC BARADAT / AFP via Getty Images)

Months after Felicia Sonmez sued the Washington Post for banning her from covering sexual misconduct stories after she came forward as a sexual assault survivor, a tweet by one of the editors named in that lawsuit has thrown gasoline on the controversy.

On Friday night, a top Washington Post editor Lori Montgomery attacked a column about the NFL player Ben Roethlisberger. “The only interesting thing about this column is how easily disproven and completely FOS it is,” Montgomery tweeted about the column—which mentioned the fact that Roethlisberger has been accused of sexual assault on multiple occasions.

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That original tweet has been deleted, and Montgomery has tweeted out an acknowledgement that “Roethlisberger was credibly accused twice of sexual assault.” (She’s since gone private on Twitter.) But Montgomery’s tweet, and how Post leadership will ultimately handle its fallout, arrives amid a public reckoning over how the Post and other newsrooms treat sexual assault and the people who survive it.

The Post has been at the center of this maelstrom since last July, when Sonmez, a Post national political reporter, sued the newspaper and some of its former and current editors, including Montgomery. Sonmez, who has publicly said that she was sexually assaulted, accused the outlet of discriminating against her when it blocked her from covering sexual misconduct stories. 

Per the complaint, Montgomery told Sonmez that “she was always taught that a woman should ‘just say no’ if a man tries to assault her.” 

The Post has moved to dismiss Sonmez’s lawsuit and in the months since its filing, many of the named defendants have ascended the Post’s professional ladder. In July, Montgomery became the Post’s business editor. An October promotion for Cameron Barr—who, according to Sonmez’s lawsuit, accused Sonmez of having “taken a side on the issue” of sexual assault—essentially made him “second-in-command in the newsroom’s hierarchy,” in the newspaper’s own words. And just last week, national editor Steven Ginsberg was named managing editor.

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After Montgomery’s tweet, Sonmez took to Twitter herself. “Respectfully, ⁦@loriamontgomery⁩, this ⁦@drewmagary⁩ column contains facts about sexual assault allegations against Ben Roethlisberger that the Washington Post’s own story backs up,” she tweeted, along with a screenshot of Montgomery’s tweet.

“I want to be clear: The Washington Post is MY workplace. I want it to be a workplace where survivors of sexual assault are safe, supported and respected. How can it be when a senior editor says a columnist who highlighted assault allegations is ‘full of shit’?” Sonmez continued in a Twitter thread. “I am choosing to stay at the Post and fight for change because I believe this storied institution, one of the country’s top newspapers, needs to do better.”

The Post didn’t immediately respond to a VICE News request for comment. A spokesperson for the newspaper told the Washingtonian that Montgomery’s “tweet was inappropriate, and the issue has been addressed internally.”

In its own statement to members, sent Monday night, the Washington Post Guild condemned Montgomery’s tweet as “unacceptable, irresponsible, and harmful.” 

“We’ve asked the masthead to address this incident with staff and take concrete steps to make sure survivors feel safe and not silenced,” the statement read. Sally Buzbee, the Post’s new executive editor, has “reassured Guild leadership she is committed to making people feel safe and has conveyed to us that she is willing to discuss this with any staffer who has concerns or questions.”