Kobe Bryant’s Tragic Death, TMZ’s Tragic Reporting, and Tragic Truths

Mary Kelley, Scarlet Staff

At 9:47am on Sunday, January 26, 2020, a helicopter crash was reported to the Los Angeles Police. By 11:24pm, TMZ had already released a story detailing the crash, which killed nine people including basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter. The tabloid included minimal information in their statement, leading to widespread misinformation and tragically informing those close to the victims before the proper authorities could do so.

The story has since been taken down by TMZ, and local authorities took time to reprimand the news team in their official statement. “It would be extremely disrespectful to understand that your loved one has perished and you learn about it from TMZ,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva. 

But the damage was already done and, not only had the next of kin been alerted, but TMZ had also released a number of unconfirmed facts to the public.

The police were still confirming the victims’ identities, utilizing information not easily accessible to the public when the story was published. TMZ had no official flight log, thus no verified passengers, and it was this lack of information that led to instances of false reports on many platforms. 

Now, in accompaniment with articles mourning the basketball legend and his 13-year-old daughter, there are plenty of articles debating whether TMZ deserved to be reprimanded on national TV. When does quick-time reporting turn into something “just wholly inappropriate,” as phrased by Villanueva, and at the same time, can TMZ be blamed for other news outlets picking up their story? 

The crux of the issue is supply and demand. TMZ is serving a need for fast information in the digital age. If they had not posted their article, the next blog or newscast would have posted what they were able to gather. The best solution would have been an article detailing the facts that TMZ had at the time, which would have most likely been the fact that there was a helicopter crash involving a prominent individual, and then continued the story once they had more information. 

British news broadcasts mistakenly showed video footage of Lebron James rather than Kobe Bryant, leading to further confusion and upset, though they may have been using pre-set footage that would have accompanied a story detailing James passing Bryant on the all-time NBA scoring list. There were sources detailing the crash as an elaborate “hoax” and videos being passed around supposedly depicting the crash. All of these rumors have been debunked, and while rumors are commonplace on the internet, it was shoddy journalism that paved the way for the sheer amount of rumors and allegations. 

The night of the Byrant helicopter crash, the 62nd annual Grammy Awards ceremony was held. Many stars gave touching tributes to Bryant, specifically Lil Nas X and Lizzo, both of whom dedicated their nights to Kobe. 

Celebrities, including but not limited to the entire Kardashian-Jenner family, took to social media to offer condolences to Bryant’s widow and shed further light on the other victims of the crash. 

The helicopter pilot was a seasoned professional, known to many stars, named Ara Zobayan. The other victims include three young teenage girls, a beloved basketball coach, and three mothers. The entire Altobelli family, father, mother, and teen daughter, are gone. The loss of these nine individuals is devastating, especially to the Mamba Academy community. 

Mamba Academy was founded in 2018 by Kobe Bryant and Chad Faulkner to “provide effective, safe and transparent human performance training to develop athletes to the peak of their potential.” 

The young girls on the helicopter were heading to basketball practice with their parents in Bryant’s helicopter, as he found it to be a far more efficient means of transportation. Bryant had been predominantly using helicopters for transportation for over a decade, as it offered a fifteen minute alternative to hours of LA traffic. It was his frequent use of helicopters that allowed him to play in every home game and never miss a school show or chance to bond with his kids.

Bryant was an advocate for the nonprofit “After-School All-Stars,” a program dedicated to providing after-school activities for students. He started the Kobe Bryant China Fund, and he with his wife, founded the “Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation” which focused on “helping young people in need, encouraging the development of physical and social skills through sports and assisting the homeless.” Bryant’s philanthropy will most likely be continued by his surviving family, and in his name, by his famous friends. 

With the good, one must remember that Bryant was also arrested in connection to a case of sexual assault in 2003. This case was later dropped, but Bryant did confess to sexual congress, though he claimed to have believed the act consensual.

Since the controversy with TMZ’s early publication of the news, TMZ founder Harvey Levin has defended their choice to release the information, stating that they had consent from “Kobe’s people.”