By Christopher Harper
The coverage of Kobe Bryant’s death underlines just how bad the media have become when covering relatively simple stories.
Here are some of the problems that happened:
–Bryant’s widow Vanessa got the news from TMZ.
–ABC News national correspondent Matt Gutman reported that all of the Bryants’ children were killed.
–The BBC aired footage of LeBron James, identifying him as Bryant.
–Vox and others got the number of people killed wrong.
–Many outlets identified the deceased daughter incorrectly.
–Esquire got the number of championships he won wrong—as well as the number of points he scored in his final game.
–DaTimes misidentified the team James was playing for in March 2018. He was still with the Cleveland Cavaliers rather than the LA Lakers.
As my boss at The Associated Press told me many years ago: Get it first, but it damned well better be right.
But then there’s the worst of all. DaPost’s emphasis on Bryant being charged with rape in 2003, which never went to trial but was settled out of court in a civil case.
Felicia Sonmez, a political reporter at DaPost, tweeted a link to a story from the Daily Beast about the Bryant rape case. After a tremendous negative response, Sonmez tweeted a second time. “Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality,” she wrote. “That folks are responding with rage & threats toward me… speaks volumes about the pressure people come under to stay silent in these cases.”
Sonmez once accused a colleague from The Los Angeles Times of sexual harassment, and he lost his job.
DaPost’s Editor Marty Baron told her to take the tweets down, which she did, and the reporter was suspended for a minute and a half until her colleagues at DaPost and elsewhere backed her up.
The paper’s union wrote an open letter to Baron and Managing Editor Tracy Grant, accusing them of failing to protect Sonmez and noting that this isn’t the first time management “has sought to control how Felicia speaks on matters of sexual violence.” More than 300 staffers signed the letter.
DaPost retreated and reinstated Sonmez. In a statement, it said that following a “review,” it had concluded that Sonmez’s tweets were “ill-timed,” but “not in clear and direct violation of our social media policy.” Sonmez was reinstated. In a statement of her own, Sonmez said she and her colleagues deserve to hear directly from Baron.
What’s clear is DaPost and others did a dreadful job of covering a rather simple story of a helicopter crash and ramped it up into an ill-timed examination of woke values. It used to be that a reporter wasn’t supposed to be part of the story. Unfortunately, that long-held ethical value has died, too.