Do you believe in karma? We may be seeing it play out in real-time.
One of the most memorable long-form pieces of last year came in Reason from Emily Yoffe, and discussed the canceling of a journalist at the hands of #MeToo activists. I highly recommend opening another browser window to read it in full, but this is a relevant portion for our conversation today:
That day, [Jonathan] Kaiman saw that he had a message from an old friend, Felicia Sonmez, and assumed she was contacting him to offer advice. She wasn’t. She was writing to him about a sexual encounter they’d had the previous September that unfolded after a long, alcohol-filled day and night of partying. She wrote in part that “it has taken me a while to fully process what happened that night….I remember thinking your behavior was aggressive at the time; it’s taken me a while to realize that actually, that kind of forcefulness totally crosses the line into inappropriate behavior.”
Kaiman immediately called Sonmez, a journalist who had recently completed a year of Chinese language study and who now works for The Washington Post. Though he offered her an apology, he was shocked by her assertion. He says what happened was “a messy, drunken hookup,” one that they each pushed forward at various points. After that night, they had discussed the encounter; he thought they had thoroughly excavated an event that both agreed was a mistake, especially because Kaiman was in a relationship with Arneson at the time. But now Sonmez was telling him that Tucker’s blog post had galvanized her to reconsider it. They talked for about 20 minutes, with Sonmez telling Kaiman she was uncertain what she was going to do next.
What resulted is the utter ruination of Kaiman’s career and life, and it came at the hands of Sonmez.
That isn’t the first time Sonmez has taken aim at someone’s career, either. Sonmez tried, and failed, at taking out the Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan after she discussed the Kaiman situation on NPR:
An update: Yesterday, I wrote a letter to Atlantic editors including @JeffreyGoldberg, @AdrienneLaF and @YAppelbaum asking them to address the recent public statements made by Caitlin Flanagan (@CaitlinPacific). Here's a copy of my letter; I have yet to receive a response. 1/x pic.twitter.com/Z5rOjCiOUg
— Felicia Sonmez (@feliciasonmez) October 8, 2019
And then, the mob came for Sonmez. Yesterday, after the death of basketball star Kobe Bryant, Sonmez posted an old Daily Beast article about the 2003 rape allegations against the star. What resulted was an absolute mob deluge at the Post writer by fans angered that Sonmez chose the moment of Bryant and his daughter’s death to relitigate the matter. In response to the outrage, Sonmez posted again, portraying the backlash as toxic to ongoing national conversations about sexual assault.
The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, who covers media for the paper, writes about what happened next,
What did Sonmez do to deserve this brushback? She tweeted out a very good story from the Daily Beast.
Journalists are rightly aghast at the precedent the Post set by taking action against Sonmez because of a tweet many Twitter users didn’t appreciate.
News organizations should protect their journalists, not acquiesce to the mob when it comes for them. The Washington Post not only failed Felicia Sonmez, but set a dangerous precedent.
— Olivia Nuzzi (@Olivianuzzi) January 27, 2020
I recall little mainstream concern when the Atlantic did the same thing when the mob took aim at Kevin Williamson. Back then, everyone, including Sonmez, were perfectly comfortable with the mob, confident that only bad guys like Williamson could ever be targeted by it. Now that one of the supposed good guys, one of the Grand Marshalls, have fallen victim now suddenly we have a crisis.
Someone with more grace probably would argue that two wrongs don’t make a right, but I’m having a hard time gathering the strength to defend Sonmez.