Written by: Isabel Fox
TMZ under heat for releasing the news on Kobe Bryant’s death before his family was informed by police.
On January 27th, 2020 at 2:24pm TMZ, one of the premier tabloids for entertainment news, posted the first heartbreaking and shocking story headlining the tragic death of Kobe Bryant. The way TMZ reported on this story received terrible backlash. TMZ released this news before families were informed. TMZ is known for making headlines that are shocking, intriguing, and bold. Even The New York Times Katie Robertson and Edmund Lee, have reported that “TMZ has been known for its brash, tabloid approach and has landed some of the entertainment industry’s biggest scoops, including the death of Michael Jackson” and now Kobe Bryant. While TMZ has been a great source for celebrity entertainment news, have they gone too far and completely disrespected Bryant’s family?
The Los Angeles County police confirmed the victims only one hour before TMZ released the news. Ultimately this gave little time for officials to inform all of the victims’ families, including Bryant’s. A Los Angeles County Sheriff, Alex Villanueva spoke to this issue. He stated, “It would be extremely disrespectful to understand that your loved one … perished and you learn about it from TMZ…That is just wholly inappropriate”. Alongside his statement, Los Angeles County Undersheriff Tim Murakami, tweeted, “I am saddened that I was gathering facts as a media outlet reported that Kobe had passed. 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”
Journalists are trained to report on the facts, but consider the ethical and emotional response of their reports. TMZ has had several instances where an ethical approach was lacking tremendously. This kind of report is not surprising when looking at TMZ’s history of their swift and quick reports lacking empathy to victims. TMZ has made reports on celebrity suicides,(Avicii, and Chester Bennington) and gone into unnecessary detail, failing to consider the thoughts and feelings of those closely affected.
TMZ has a track record of being the first to know and report about celebrity deaths, such as, Micheal Jackson, Whitney Houston, Prince, and Kobe Bryant, it unfortunately makes people trust their source (because they have been right in the past) even before an official report from reputable outlets have confirmed the information. However, this does not mean the ethical approach to their journalists are valid. From The Washington Post, Margaret Sullivan, wrote “If the media world were ruled by thoughtfulness, rigor and ethics, TMZ wouldn’t have broken the news about Sunday’s helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others before all families were notified.” In fact, after this incident over 600,000 people signed a petition to have TMZ canceled for their lack of sensitivity when it came to this report.
Journalists must follow a code of ethics, and one of them is, “Minimize Harm”. In essence, this means showing compassion for those affected by the news coverage. In instances where people are unable to give consent to a report, journalists must navigate this issue with compassion and sensitivity. In this case, TMZ had every opportunity to wait for police officials to confront the victims’ families before they posted their story. According to the Society of Professional Journalists, and normal human decency, TMZ violated all forms of an ethical stance when releasing this story.
To the public’s eye, this makes TMZ seem more interested in the entertainment and cash flow of their stores, rather than the humans involved. Overall, TMZ should have, and moving forward, always lead with an ethical approach. It was unnecessary for them to report on Kobe Bryant’s death before his family was informed, let alone the police.