The ethicality of the media coverage of Kobe Bryant’s death

Photo courtesy of Zin Chiang

Unpacking the media coverage of Bryant’s death as well as the overwhelming social-media response that followed

Vishva Natarajan

Kobe Bryant’s death undoubtedly came as a surprise for millions of Americans and fans around the world. Media coverage of such an impactful and emotionally charged event ought to be sensitive, but apparently this can often be a difficult compromise for media outlets that seek to quickly spread more facts and news about the death of a legendary star. 

I think news outlets should prioritize accuracy of news while delivering it in a reasonably timely manner: not rush to inform audiences at the detriment of news accuracy. 

It is also important for media outlets to gauge how fast is too fast when rushing to cover a story, all while considering who would be affected by the reporting — in this case, the Bryant family. How a media outlet weighs these factors says a lot about the outlet’s values, credibility and in my opinion, overall quality.

According to the New York Times, TMZ reported the death of Bryant before his family was informed of it. Sadly, much of a celebrity’s family’s privacy is non-existant. However, in a serious matter like the death of a husband and father, TMZ’s move was highly insensitive. 

Further, Matt Gutman of ABC news reported all four of Bryant’s children died before later apologizing on Twitter. 

And speaking of Twitter, the initial TMZ report incited such a cacophony of loose reporting that President Trump in his tweet stated, “Bryant and three others have been killed in a helicopter crash” even though Bryant and eight others
were killed. 

I imagine the President not mentioning the death of Bryant’s daughter would have been hurtful to the family.

In the age of the internet, false stories and misleading narratives are ubiquitous and spread rapidly. 

What would usually be a private and sensitive matter becomes a topic of open discussion and speculation by what the family might consider complete strangers. 

It is easy to state that media outlets should respond the way the Los Angeles Times did, by acknowledging the need for more investigation before coming to conclusions. 

But I think the unfortunate truth is that given the disproportionate influence of anonymous sources and the powerful vehicle that is social media, the problem of loose reporting is probably not going away anytime soon.

Will Marchant

Traditional and social media responded to Kobe Bryant’s death with a consensus sorrow and respect for the late Lakers player that allowed no room for voices of genuine concern for his troubling past conduct. It created a rare moment of monoculture in our divided and fractional world. 

Writers, fans and generic public figures all acted within this monoculture narrative. Social media became a 48-hour loop where everyone you knew eulogized the late Kobe Bryant. When individuals stepped outside the monoculture view of him, the herd lashed out. 

The most troubling of which was the Washington Post’s suspension of writer Felicia Sonmez. The writer tweeted a link to a fact-based story on Kobe Bryant’s 2003 sexual assault case with no attached comment. 

Details in this case are uncomfortable to read and write about. I can only imagine how victims of sexual assault felt as they saw the monoculture’s response to the death of Kobe Bryant, and I apologize that this may be yet another piece that will be triggering in this uncomfortable time. 

Kobe Bryant was likely a rapist. His 2003 victim sustained injuries from his attack. Kobe Bryant’s legal team used the victim’s sexual history against her. The legal team claimed she may have been pursuing wealth even though the victim reportedly came from a wealthy family. 

The legal team talked of the victim’s past depression, as if accusing a powerful man of sexual assault would not worsen her mental health. The legal team represented Kobe Bryant, and the legal team cannot be separated from
Kobe Bryant. 

Sonmez, a victim of sexual assault herself, was punished by the Post for speaking out. Democracy dies in darkness, but according to the Post, sometimes democracy is silencing the weak. And sometimes democracy acting in the light provokes enough of a backlash that you have to reinstate your writer near immediately. 

The Washington Post represents the establishment, and the only reason the writer was reinstated so quickly was because there was enough backlash to force them to. 

Traditional media caught itself out farther than the educated public that consumes their media. There is more appetite for accountability and far less for protecting adults’ heroes.