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On Jan. 26 at 11:24 a.m., TMZ blasted the basketball world with breaking news—Kobe Bryant died at the age of 41 in a helicopter crash alongside his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna “Gigi” Bryant. The news outlet did not wait to notify Bryant’s family before going public with the information, nor did they confirm reports with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Instead, TMZ raced against officers who were trying to contact the families involved, releasing the ghastly news to the public before Bryant’s family was even aware.
THANK YOU MAMBA
Kobe’s death shattered me, I’m still in denial. He was a basketball legend, phonomenal leader and devoted mentor, teaching the “Mamba Mentality” on and off the court to a generation seeking greatness. I never met Bryant—most haven’t. Yet, he left an impact on me and thousands of other basketball fans that will be felt indefinitely. He inspired me to pursue all hopeful realities, no matter how unrealistic they felt.
He played every game as if it were his last, never seeming to run out of gas, convincing those who watched him play to think he was invincible. Kobe never flinched. He wasn’t going anywhere. And then to see his name in an obituary, it just doesn’t sit right with me—and it never will. There is no way Kobe Bryant—such a fierce competitor—can be gone. And the way his death was brought to the attention of his wife and remaining children is even more devastating.
TMZ should not have released the heartbreaking information of Bryant’s death before allowing authorities to notify his family first. News outlets should realize the impact of inconsiderate reporting and the damaging effects it can cause.
The journalist in me can understand the desire to break a story first. A basketball legend, fan favorite, Oscar-winning celebrity died in a helicopter crash—who wouldn’t want to be the first to report? However, from an ethical standpoint, I cannot fathom what was going through the minds of the reporters at TMZ, and why they would be so crass in releasing information on the death of a legend before informing his family. TMZ must know they are at fault, yet has not responded to requests by CNN for comment in regard to the decision-making process behind the public release of Bryant’s death.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva made a public jab at TMZ in a press conference Sunday afternoon over their ethically poor decision.
“It would be extremely disrespectful to understand that your loved one…perished and you learn about it from TMZ,” Villanueva said, according to CNN. “That is just wholly inappropriate.”
In the same press conference, LA County Undersheriff Tim Murakami backed up Villanueva in pointing out what the department feels to be a great insensitivity on TMZ’s part.
“I am saddened that I was gathering facts as a media outlet reported…Kobe had passed,” Murakami said. “I understand getting the scoop but please allow us time to make personal notifications to their loved ones. It’s very cold to hear of the loss via media. Breaks my heart.”
TMZ should have waited to publish, out of respect for the Bryant family to grieve before the rest of the world.
False accusations and sloppy reporting began to flood the internet in the critical moments following TMZ’s release. NBC News tweeted out just 10 minutes after TMZ, writing that five people had been killed in the crash in Calabasas, California. Matt Gutman of ABC News went on to report incorrectly that Bryant, along with his four daughters were all on board the flight and died. The fallacious news continued to spread, causing speculation and denial. Gutman would soon come to admit his inaccuracy and apologize for the false reports. The Los Angeles Times would shortly report that the true number of casualties is nine.
Can you imagine Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, hearing that all of her daughters were dead, when knowing well that three of them were not even on the helicopter? Since this news was inaccurate, it is fair to believe that she could have gained some comfort from the false hope that her husband might not have been dead either. A cruel joke cast upon a grieving widow thanks to untrustworthy media.
The spiral of fake news began with TMZ’s overeagerness. Competing news organizations saw the shocking headline and jumped on board to get their company’s name in a search bar. It seems that the media gets so caught up in being the first to break news, they forget these people are going through hell. It is important that the media handle fatal situations with delicacy rather than urgency.
RESPECT FOR PEOPLE IN MEDIA
At the end of the day, being the first to have your name on a historical byline means nothing. Respect for the loved ones who will be grieving for the rest of their lives is what should come first. The Bryants are people too. They experience pain and sorrow just like the rest of us. Just because they live a successful life in the spotlight does not mean they should have their right to grieve in privacy taken away. The heartless stature of those affiliated with TMZ should be re-evaluated and with the perspective of how releasing life-changing information affected families.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the Bryant, Altobelli, Chester, Mauser and the Zobayan families, as well as the Mamba Sports Academy and the Orange Coast College community.