Reporters Who Ruined Their Careers In A Matter Of Seconds

By 2020, even the most casual internet users became aware of cancel culture, which is basically when "the masses" use social media to shame a public figure and call for them to essentially go away forever. Hey, Facebook gets heated — especially when users debate political views — but for private citizens, there's not really the huge threat that an ill-advised comment or a slip of the tongue will derail an entire career. That's not the same for news reporters who have a responsibility to maintain full objectivity (lest they're writing an op ed) and endure an onslaught of death threats and harassment for each misstep. It's the price of being a public figure, but not everyone in the spotlight treads so carefully.

In a matter of seconds, these reporters got themselves cancelled, both figuratively and literally (sorry, Megyn Kelly). For some, all it took was a misheard quote, and for others, well, they probably should've laid off the alcohol and thought twice before causing a public scene.

How did a Kobe Bryant tweet get this WaPo reporter suspended?

A Washington Post reporter found herself embroiled in controversy following Kobe Bryant's tragic death in early 2020 when she tweeted a link to a 2016 story from the Daily Beast that outlined the felony sexual assault charges leveled at the star in 2003. Though Felicia Sonmez was hardly the first person to bring up Bryant's darker past following the helicopter crash that claimed the lives of nine people, including Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, she ultimately paid the price.

The New York Times reports that Sonmez, who is a survivor of assault, received an email from the WaPo's executive editor Martin Baron slamming her since-deleted tweets, which urged her followers to remember public figures in "their totality," according to NBC News. "A real lack of judgment to tweet this," Baron reportedly wrote, adding, "Please stop. You're hurting this institution by doing this." Shortly after, Sonmez was instructed by the paper's managing editor, Tracy Grant, to delete the tweets per the organization's security policy, and was placed on paid administrative leave.

After outrage from some 300 Post co-workers who didn't approve of the paper's resolution, Sonmez was reinstated, although Grant still maintained that the tweets were "ill-timed" (via The New York Times). While Sonmez's career is clearly intact, she did receive a tirade of death threats, sexual assault threats, and harassment following the tweets, which could indicate a lasting impact on the future public perception of her work.  

Be careful what you tweet for

In September 2019, a casino worker named Carson King went viral when he was pictured in the background of an Iowa State University vs. University of Iowa football game on ESPN. According to Buzzfeed News, King became momentarily famous for holding a sign that read "Busch Light Supply Needs Replenished" with his Venmo username, which eventually resulted in the now-viral star raising over $3 million for a children's hospital with help from Anheuser-Busch, who vowed to match donations. Enter: Aaron Calvin, a reporter for the Des Moines Register, who decided to profile the local legend and ultimately lost his job as a result.

Buzzfeed News reports that Calvin ran a standard social media background check on King before writing his piece and uncovered some racist tweets that the casino worker had published in high school. He included these in the profile along with King's apology. Following the report, Calvin was slammed for trying to destroy "a local hero" and was hit with "harassment, doxing, and death threats." When right-wing media figures uncovered the reporter's own offensive tweets, which included using the n-word when quoting a Kanye West song and using the word "'gay' as a pejorative," Calvin was fired.

"They told me they were going to offer me an option — that I could resign or I could be fired — with no severance," he told Buzzfeed News. "It was really a semantic difference, I guess, so I chose to be fired."

One bad headline is all it takes to get fired from Newsweek

The president always pardons a turkey on Thanksgiving Day, but in 2019, he probably should have pardoned a reporter instead. That year, Newsweek fired journalist Jessica Kwong for writing an inaccurate story about Trump's turkey day plans. According to the Washington Examiner, the article's headline originally claimed that the former reality star was "tweeting, golfing, and more" during his break, but had no mention of the president's surprise trip to Afghanistan. Still, should Kwong have actually gotten the ax?

A representative for Newsweek told the Washington Examiner that they "investigated the failures that led to the publication of the inaccurate report." Though they claimed Kwong was responsible, the reporter admitted it was an "honest mistake" because her article was written "before knowing about the president's surprise visit." She told the Washington Examiner that she alerted the editor as soon as the news of Trump's visit broke and urged them to update it, but they failed to do so "in a timely manner." Newsweek did eventually amend the article to include the trip hours after publication.

Despite her ultimate fate, Kwong's report wasn't completely inaccurate. Trump did spend part of his Thanksgiving holiday tweeting just enough to slam Newsweek for the story. He wrote, "I thought Newsweek was out of business?" after Donald Trump Jr. called the report "fake news." Ouch. It's unclear what Kwong is doing as of this writing, but her Twitter profile says she "formerly" worked at Newsweek.

Disrespect classic cars, and you're out of here

The first rule of a car show is don't disrespect the cars at the show. Angel Cardenas, a reporter for KMAX-TV's Good Day Sacramento who was on-location at the Sacramento International Auto Show, apparently didn't get the memo. According to Fox News, the reporter — who was dressed in an untucked shirt and loosened tie — climbed on top of the classic, privately owned cars during a live segment, seemingly causing some damage and horrifying car collectors everywhere.

"The only person out here is a media coordinator, [the event] doesn't start until later in the day," Cardenas said during the segment (via Fox News). "No one is out here to tell me which car I can't go in, 'cause some of these are off-limits, so I'm just gonna live on the wild side."

It was the wild side, indeed. Per Fox's report, Cardenas climbed into the driver's seat of one of the classic Ford Thunderbirds, dinging the door into a neighboring car before remarking "nobody's looking." According to car blog Tire Meets Road, the owner of the cars featured in the segment put "thousands of dollars and man-hours" into restoring them. In a Facebook post, the auto show claimed the incident was so "astonishingly awful" that their producer reached out to KMAX TV's general manager, who revealed that Cardenas had been fired. Dude, maybe next time you should just take the bus.

An unfortunate slip of the tongue

MSNBC anchor Alison Morris may have just ruined her career with a stutter. Sometimes that's all it takes. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Morris sparked an outrage when she used what sounded like a racial slur when reporting on the death of 18-time NBA All-Star Kobe Bryant — but no one actually knows what she said for sure. In the broadcast, the anchor reports, "It seems like he was just the kind of athlete, the kind of star that was perfectly cast on the Los Angeles [inaudible]" before correcting herself and saying, "Los Angeles Lakers." Shortly after, she was hit with a wave of angry tweets from viewers who thought she said the n-word.

Morris swiftly defended herself, claiming she never used a racial slur, and it was merely a slip of the tongue. "Earlier today, while reporting on the tragic news of Kobe Bryant's passing, I unfortunately stuttered on air, combining the names of the Knicks and the Lakers to say 'Nakers,'" she tweeted. "Please know I did not & would NEVER use a racist term. I apologize for the confusion this caused."

Despite Morris' defense, fans are still calling for the anchor to be fired from MSNBC. Someone created a petition urging for her termination. At the time of this writing, it has more than 185,000 signatures, and MSNBC has not yet made a statement on the anchor's fate with the network.

Maybe don't go off unless you're ready to be ... off the air

Television reporters are always on the clock, which is why it's probably not the best idea to cause a public scene. PHL 17 reporter Colleen Campbell learned the hard way when she was fired from the network following what the New York Post describes as a "vicious tirade" outside of a comedy club in 2017 that was recorded and put on Facebook.

According to the paper, Campbell was booted from Philadelphia-based comedy club for disturbing other guests, then completely went off on a police officer in a profanity-laced rant. She then appeared to try and spit in the face of a club employee and was finally cuffed. She was ultimately charged with "resisting arrest, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct" and removed from her position at the news station.

According to Philadelphia Magazine, Campbell claimed she only had two drinks at the Helium (despite drinking prior to the comedy show) and might have been drugged. She had no idea a video existed until she was fired. "When I came home, I called my producer to talk about why I was absent. I didn't realize a video was out," she told the magazine. "I found out about it later, because HR called me and said I was being terminated." Campbell also admitted that she felt "ruined."

Megyn Kelly's candid blackface chat got her the axe

The last we saw of Megyn Kelly, she was actually Charlize Theron. The actress played the former Fox News anchor in the critically acclaimed film Bombshell, but just a couple years prior, Kelly's NBC show was put on the chopping block after a full-on scandal.

Kelly's show, Megyn Kelly Today, was cancelled when the journalist questioned whether or not blackface was racist during a Tuesday morning segment in 2018. "Back when I was a kid, that was okay just as long as you were dressing up as — like a character," she claimed. She then defended Luann de Lesseps, a Real Housewife of New York who darkened her skin while dressing up as Diana Ross for a Halloween party. "I don't know how that got racist on Halloween," Kelly said.

Of course, Kelly's commentary was met with wild criticism. You just don't defend blackface, period. Though she reportedly apologized to NBC staff internally and made a public apology the following day, her show was cancelled not long after, according to The Guardian.

Don't wear flats in floodwaters

TV reporters have to get into the nitty gritty when they're on location, but one TV Azteca reporter acted like her shoes were more important than her story, which is kind of a bad look when you're covering a natural disaster.

According to the New York Post, reporter Lydia Cumming was axed from her gig when she was caught on film being carried by townspeople through a large puddle as she reported on flooding in the central Mexican city of Puebla. She had both her arms wrapped around two people who had their feet completely submerged in the flooding. Unsurprisingly, it didn't take long for Cumming to be labeled a "princessa" and get turned into a meme. Across the internet, her image was Photoshopped into varying situations like on the Titanic or being carried out of a Tequila bar wearing a sombrero.

Cumming defended herself on Twitter and in an interview with El Pais. According to The Telegraph, who translated her defense, she claimed, "I try to maintain a relationship of empathy with people and was afraid of sounding rude if I refused the favor. I was [carried] for two seconds and then asked them to put me [down]." Her apology was too late. Azteca TV believed Cumming disrespected locals who were part of the coverage and ultimately gave the reporter the boot — but not an actual pair of boots, which she probably could've used.

This reporter was fired for his MAGA hat

A journalist for NBC affiliate KTTC in Minnesota learned about objective reporting the hard way when he was fired from his job for wearing a red "Make America Great Again" hat while on duty — a rookie mistake, except apparently he did it on purpose. According to Buzzfeed News, reporter Jim Bunner was covering a Donald Trump rally in Rochester, Minn. when he was snapped by the Star Tribune's Mark Vancleave, who was also covering the rally. Vancleave's photo, which subsequently went viral, showed Bunner donning the accessory in combination with his KTTC jacket. Bunner was swiftly fired.

"He violated our policy so he's no longer with us," KTTC news director Noel Sederstrom told BuzzFeed News. "We don't allow our people to wear campaign clothing while on assignment."

KTTC's rule isn't unique. Most news outlets urge their reporters not to make political statements in order to protect the objectivity in their reporting, but Bunner didn't seem to be that concerned. BuzzFeed News reports that he promoted the NRA on social media and "uploaded a picture of himself dancing in a newsroom in apparent celebration" of Trump's inauguration. According to the Post Bulletin, Bunner, who went on to host a conservative podcast, claimed he only wore the hat to develop trust with Trump supporters, who were reportedly booing and calling him "fake news" before he put it on. He claimed wearing the hat "exposed the truth about the state of journalism in this country."

This reporter's boss unfriended her in real life

Jim Bunner could have probably learned his lesson if he had just paid attention a couple years prior when a Texas TV reporter was fired from her job for similar objectivity snafus. According to the New York Post, Scarlett Fakhar was axed from her reporting gig at the local Houston-based Fox network Fox26 for a decidedly partisan social media post.

Per the report, Fakhar proclaimed in a now-deleted Facebook post that "Obama made the 'entire county hate one another' and claimed God 'had a hand' in [Trump winning] the election." She was reportedly so thrilled by the former reality star's win that she could "barely sleep." In more since-deleted Facebook posts (via the New York Post), Fakhar revealed that she was canned "for expressing [her] conservative views on [her] private Facebook page," which must not have actually been that private. She also alleged that Fox26 tried to get her to remove her "fan page" from Facebook — but that wasn't the end. She continued by calling out "the 'liberal' Houston Chronicle, claiming the newspaper wrongfully reported that she criticized African-Americans." According to the Post, this referenced a social media entry where Fakhar claimed the "number of African Americans killed one another far outweighs the number of them being killed by whites." 

Fakhar seemingly bounced back after the controversy. At one point, she was working for Real Investment News, however, as of this writing, her Instagram profile just says she is a "barre instructor."

TMI got this reporter the boot

There is, apparently, such a thing as TMI in reporting. We want the details, but how much is too much? Shea Allen, a news reporter for the local Alabama ABC affiliate WAAY probably should have left out some details when revealing cheeky behind-the-scenes secrets about her job. According to Today, the reporter was fired in 2013 after writing a personal blog post called "Apologies: Confessions of a Red Headed Reporter" during her time off from work.

In the now-deleted post (via Today), the reporter admitted to a slew of salacious things regarding her work process, like "her best sources have a secret crush on her, and she's gone without a bra during a live report — and no one noticed." She also wrote that she "refuses to do stories" about "old people" because she's scared of them (never mind the fact that Allen, should she be so lucky, will one day be old).

"I was being snarky and funny; I certainly didn't think it would come to this," Allen said in an interview with Today. Around the time of her firing, the reporter told HuffPost Live (via Poynter) that she had just "$148 in [her] checking account" and wasn't allowed to violate her non-compete agreement with the station or she'd be sued. As of this writing, it looks like Allen is no longer in the TV news business and, instead, runs a film production studio where she makes documentaries.