Kobe Bryant’s death brought out the worst in national media


Wikimedia Commons/Fido - Flickr: Bucks @ Lakers

Kobe Bryant approaches the Lakers’ bench in a 2013 home game against the Bucks. Bryant died Sunday in a helicopter crash at age 41.

By Spencer Goldstein, Pascack Valley High School

It’s just one of those things that stops time.

Shock, sadness, denial. All at once.


Kobe Bryant can’t just die…

There’s no way.


The day before, he was congratulating LeBron James for passing him in career points. And now, he, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others are gone after a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.

But amidst the devastating online reactions — the posting, the texting, the endless Twitter feed refreshing in hopes that this was all just one big mistake — another unfortunate reality of today’s world came to light.

Modern media is so engagement-driven, so obsessed with those extra clicks, so zeroed in on making sure their  tweet is the one that goes viral, that many of the news outlets we, as a society, are supposed to deposit our trust into are more concerned about reporting the story first, than getting the story right.

This was evident in a multitude of stories as time crawled by. First, it was reported that five people were killed in the crash; it was later revealed to be nine. But at the end of the day, a numerical misevaluation can be forgiven — there can be a logical explanation for that. What’s inexcusable is reporting the death or involvement of specific people without confirmation — as was the case when it was falsely reported that Bryant’s former teammate and current actor Rick Fox was involved in the crash.

Fox — a 3-time NBA champion as a teammate of Bryant — and his family were already receiving commiserations throughout social media before his stepdaughter, Jillian Hervey, cleared everything up.

Not long after, in an update during ESPN’s coverage of the NFL Pro Bowl, ABC news anchor Matt Gutman carelessly mentioned that all four of Bryant’s daughters were aboard the helicopter. It wasn’t done in “breaking news fashion.” Instead, it was casually slipped into the end of his segment, and could easily have been missed by someone not paying full attention. But he reported it as fact, and its effects were real. The social media world did not miss a beat before mourning the loss of the four young girls.

Yet it didn’t end there. Because it would have been too hard for media outlets to simply be honest about how they lacked information on the state of Bryant’s family. Because the clicks are the top priority and nothing else comes first.

FOX reporter Alexis Wainwright later tweeted that none of Bryant’s kids were aboard the helicopter, giving the world a moment of relief in a time of distress. But once again, careless reporting and rushed informing contributed to another indefensible error.

Inaccurate tweet by FOX’s Alexis Wainwright regarding Bryant’s family after the crash.

By the time TMZ accurately reported the death of Gianna “GiGi” Bryant, 70 minutes had passed since the original tweet that triggered the chaos. Within that time frame, supposedly-reliable news outlets inaccurately reported four deaths, one survival, the crash’s death count and the cancellation of the entire slate of Sunday’s NBA games.

It was a somber day to be a sports fan, inexplicably made worse by the greed of national media in its pursuit of clicks and engagement. One can only hope that media outlets and members will learn from Sunday’s events and be more careful in the future. However, in a time when it brings in more revenue to be first than it does to be right, it would be misguided to let that hope become an expectation.

CBS Los Angeles. The identities of all nine victims of Sunday morning’s helicopter crash in Calabasas.

This story was originally published on The Smoke Signal on January 27, 2020.