Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez’s bombshell lawsuit against the paper—accusing leadership of gender discrimination for barring her from reporting on sexual misconduct as an assault survivor—alleged many cruel ironies.
One of the most galling, however, was that while editors banned Sonmez from covering certain stories due to her identity as a survivor, they seemed to place no such restrictions on a male colleague of Sonmez’s, who had been accused of sexual harassment.
The colleague is unnamed in Sonmez’s court filings, but the Daily Beast revealed Sunday night that the Post employee is Simon Denyer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning bureau chief based in Tokyo. According to the outlet, the Post conducted an internal investigation into Denyer’s conduct in 2018, after top editors learned of allegations that he’d sent an “unsolicited pantless” photo to another reporter.
Sonmez is more specific in her suit, alleging that the photo was of her colleague’s “underwear-covered crotch.” Marty Baron, she said, the executive editor of the Post at the time, “never ordered that the [male] reporter be banned from covering stories related to sexual misconduct or inappropriate behavior by men.”
And this appears to be true, according to the Daily Beast’s report, which found that Post management concluded their investigation—during which they “determined no professional wrongdoing on Denyer’s part”—with a slap on the wrist for Denyer.
The Daily Beast has also obtained screenshots of text messages between Denyer and the woman reporter to whom he allegedly sent the inappropriate photo. “Your snarkiness is in contrast to the thoughtful piece on the China #metoo movement you did,” the reporter told Denyer, referring to an earlier remark of his. “But it’s not surprising as you’ve sent me an unsolicited pantless photo of yourself.” The “thoughtful piece” she mentions is a 2018 report with the headline “Chinese women reveal sexual harassment, but #MeToo movement struggles for air”—a story Sonmez wouldn’t have been allowed to write at the time.
In March, when Sonmez first spoke publicly about the coverage ban—which editors allegedly told her was necessary due to the appearance of a “conflict of interest”—she didn’t mention Denyer or any “male colleague” accused of harassment. At the time, I wrote:
In newsrooms—many of which remain disproportionately white and male-dominated—that assumption [that white men are objective] can get codified into editorial practices. In other words, it is no accident that marginalized people are usually the ones accused of having irreversible biases and kept from doing their jobs because of it. It is also why white male reporters are rarely asked questions whose answers could also be revealing of biases, like, “Have you ever been accused of assaulting anyone?”
Denyer seems to have benefited from the assumption of his inherent objectivity. Jezebel has reached out to the Post for comment; we’ll update this post if we hear back.