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Time to give the media a break, it does its job

Bikram Vohra
Filed on January 29, 2020

The media, ugly as it is, intruded on the privacy of the stricken Bryant family.

Attacking the media has become an extreme sport of sorts and US President Donald Trump's open hostility has spurred on this disdain to an unprecedented level. Even fish and ducks have a closed season but not the media. Giving it the benefit of doubt has become passÚ. It is easier to summarily hang it for acts of commission and omission without a trial.

Much the same outrage has followed the tragic loss of basketball legend Kobe Bryant with the public raking the TMZ news outlet for prematurely announcing the crash and the death of all on board. The story was picked up and morphed into a report of how his wife Vanessa heard of his death on the celebrity news site. That scenario became high drama and forced its founder Harvey Levin to clarify that this was all untrue and that TMZ had received clearance from the Bryant core team before releasing the story. In the New York Post Levin sought vainly to explain the 'truth' as he saw it. "We dealt with Kobe's people. and we were told very clearly that she had been notified," Levin said, appearing to refer to Bryant's widow Vanessa. But the truth so to speak is not half as titillating as the fabrication and it survives to stain the situation despite the denials. The media, ugly as it is, intruded on the privacy of the stricken family. Conclusion: what a thoughtless, heartless media!! And when LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva added his bit, well, who cares for the defense: "It would be extremely disrespectful to understand that your loved one perished and you learn about it from TMZ. That is just wholly inappropriate," he said.

By the same token it can be asked whether journalist Alexander Birnbaum in The New York Daily News was justified in carrying a whole report on the rape accusation in 2003 which was settled after the victim dropped the charges even as the helicopter smoldered and the world was stunned.

Birnbaum's defense: "Today, a major media organisation silenced someone who spoke up about a horror because, it seems, they objected to her speaking ill of the dead. Felicia Sonmez, a national political reporter for the Washington Post, was vilified online for tweeting about the rape case against Kobe Bryant. Subsequently, she was placed on administrative duty by the newspaper (which has released a statement saying Sonmez is under investigation for possibly violating their newsroom's social media policy). Is the death of Bryant and his daughter a terrible tragedy? Undoubtedly. Nine people died, and in a horrific manner at that. Nine lights have been extinguished. Families are grieving unbearable pain. I feel for all of them. But we cannot ignore what happened to that victim back in 2003. I bet she's having a hard time right now, too."

At the same time that these controversies were raising their heads there was also media contributions that were heart wrenchingly exquisite. A blog on Facebook by Four Norths in the South put the global fear of every parent so eloquently: "The moment he knew that not only his own life was about to end, but that of his daughter...a life he helped create. Can you imagine how he felt as a father knowing he couldn't protect her? Can you imagine him holding her, consoling her, telling her he loved her as that helicopter went down? As a parent, I can tell you, Kobe Bryant's greatest fear was realised today. And it wasn't the fear for his own life, but for that of his beautiful daughter. Because as a parent, your life means nothing in comparison to the lives of your children. We live for our children. We breathe for our children. They are our reason for being. We would also die for them, without hesitation. He knew his daughter's young life was ending. He knew he was leaving three other precious children behind. Can you even imagine the agony that played out in his mind? Every parent's worst nightmare happening to him in real time."

Much as it conjures up a catastrophe of massive proportions drenched in raw emotion perhaps it didn't happen just this way and Kobe was spared the agony because the chopper seems to have gone into the ground in what is known as a Controlled Flight into Terrain (CFIT), a situation in which a pilot is disoriented and in this case, in the thick cloud cover unsure of where he is. After reaching 2,300 feet in a holding pattern for 12 minutes in zero visibility he banks to the left, loses his bearings and flies down in ten to twelve seconds. Although second guessing an investigation is pointless the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) did confirm at the news conference that the plane hit the ground at full speed indicating the engines were working fine and then again, the vast spreads of the wreckage indicate that impact was maximum.

"If you're flying visually, if you get caught in a situation where you can't see out the windshield, the life expectancy of the pilot and the aircraft is maybe 10, 15 seconds, and it happens all the time, and it's really a shame," says one expert.

The question to be asked now is why when police choppers had been grounded because of bad weather, why was the Sikorsky 76 allowed to take off. That is media's job.

- bikram@khaleejtimes.com



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