Civics: Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez waged a six-day war of attrition over a colleague’s retweet of an off-colour joke.

Kat Rosenfield:

What quickly became clear, however, is that the joke was not the point. The problem was what it represented: the mere tip of an imagined vast, sexist iceberg lurking below the surface. Some claimed that it signalled the hidden sexism of the reporter, Dave Weigel, who retweeted it; others, including Sonmez, insisted that it was symbolic of a deep-seated culture of misogyny in the Washington Post itself. This type of projection is intrinsic to such online controversies: nobody ever makes a one-off mistake, everything is part of pattern. (When John Roderick, now better known as Bean Dad, tried to create a teachable moment by getting his daughter to work out the machinations of a can opener without help, internet scolds were so incensed that they reported him to Child Protective Services.)

We watched the action like a TV show: the callout, the apology, the suspension of the colleague (for a full month without pay) when the apology was deemed insufficient, the escalating demands from Sonmez (who not only supported Weigel’s suspension, but wanted everyone who publicly criticised her public criticism to be professionally sanctioned as well). All this, combined with a series of leaks from inside the increasingly-exasperated Washington Post leadership apparatus, built to a climax as hotly-debated as theseries finale of LOST. How could they possibly fire her? How could they possibly not?

Every one of these meltdowns, from the dad with the can opener to the reporter with an ax to grind, owes its existence to an ongoing erosion of interpersonal trust. Consider how suspicious one has to be, how consumed by paranoid cynicism, to see a veteran reporter retweet an off-colour joke and declare it not an isolated error in judgment, but a definitive glimpse of the darkness that lurks inside his heart.

Never mind that the man in question has worked with and mentored women who loudly attest to his decency. Never mind the countless positive interactions amassed over the course of a 20-year career. The mask has slipped, the jig is up, the retweet is not just a retweet but a revelation. What kind of person finds a joke like that funny? A woman-disrespecter, that’s who! And having telegraphed his true disposition toward his female colleagues, surely the person in question is unfit to remain employed.

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